by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
When Gilbert Melendez knocked out Rodrigo Damm in Strikeforce a couple of weeks back, not only did he reassert his claim to be the No. 1 contender in the promotion’s lightweight division, but he took a huge step forward in showing the same kind of dominance that had him ranked among the top three 155-pounders in the world just a short time ago.

After suffering a decision loss to current lightweight champion Josh Thomson, Melendez opened a new school in California, while getting back to his training roots alongside teammates like Jake Shields, Nick and Nate Diaz, and others. The result was Melendez absolutely dominating a quality opponent in Damm, and announcing to the world that he is back, as well as capturing the Strikeforce interim lightweight championship.

Prior to his fight in April, Melendez had been rumored as a possible candidate to exit Strikeforce after his current deal expired, but according to the California-based fighter, he plans on staying with the promotion for the foreseeable future.

“I think for the immediate future, yes, but we’ve got to work some things out,” Melendez told MMAWeekly Radio recently. “Me and Scott Coker have communicated well, he’s been a really good guy. I’m really happy with them and I think I’m going to continue my future with them, and for a couple of fights right now and see how things go.”

Being able to promote his name and career has been a big part of what Melendez was searching for when speaking about promotions, but with Strikeforce now on Showtime and later this year with CBS, it’s the sky’s the limit for potential exposure.

“You’ve got to brand yourself as a person and as a fighter in the industry,” he commented. “I think I’ve had a lot of great fights that I’ve fought, and I’ve proven a lot to the hardcore fans, and now I need the world to see me. I need the nation to see me, and give me some respect.”

Originally scheduled to meet champion Josh Thomson, who was forced off the card with an injury, in a rematch from their 2008 title fight, Melendez did everything but assure himself of a title shot when the champion returns. Despite the virtual lock for the championship bout, he says he’s more interested in staying busy, and has a name for whom he’d like to face next.

“I’m really trying to push to get a match with (Mitsuhiro) Ishida,” Melendez said. “I don’t really want to wait five or six months to fight Josh (Thomson), to fight again. I’d really like to get a rematch with Ishida, if they can pull that off and help me out, that would make me happy.”

Melendez will now go back to work at his gym, while helping teammate Jake Shields prepare for his June 6 Strikeforce showdown against Robbie Lawler in St. Louis.