September 27, 2007

by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com

Since the acquisition of Pride by Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company, fans<br /> have been patiently waiting to see many of their contra

Since the acquisition of Pride by
Zuffa, LLC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s parent company, fans have been
patiently waiting to see many of Pride’s contracted stars debut in new
promotions. One fighter that is about to have his wait come to an end is the
current number-three ranked lightweight in the world, Gilbert “El Niño” Melendez.

Melendez stormed the world stage
last year with stunning victories in Pride including a fight of the year
candidate with perennial top ten fighter Tatsuya Kawajiri.

The Cesar Gracie trained student now
will return to his roots in Strikeforce to face Tetsuji Kato at the Playboy
Mansion on Saturday night in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“I’m very excited,” said Melendez
about his return to MMA. “Even though I wasn’t fighting, I didn’t take any time
off. It’s like I’ve been working for free. I’ve been training so hard and
helping my buddies get ready for fights. It feels good that my hard work is
going to pay off.”

The time off from fighting for most
of the Pride fighters left with contracts when Zuffa purchased the company was
a matter of negotiation or waiting for the deal to expire so they could sign
with another organization. Melendez had an existing deal with Strikeforce that
allowed him to fight the regardless of his Pride contract.

“I basically played the waiting game
with the Pride thing,” stated Melendez. “[I] had a lot of faith in them that it
would come around and get things together and it didn’t work out.”

Now with his Strikeforce deal in
place, many fans are asking the obvious question if Melendez will end up in the
UFC, where the lightweight division has taken shape over the last few months.

“There’s a chance I could end up
anywhere,” said Melendez about a possible deal with the UFC. “It’s a sport and
I fight for the love, but it’s also a business and I’m trying to make a career
out of it and a life out of it.

“I really want to fight (Sean)
Sherk. It’s a big thing for me to fight Sherk. Maybe I could talk to Dana White
or he could give me that call when that time comes and we’ll see what happens.”

Never one to back down from
challenges, Melendez also welcomed a fight with current K-1 standout Gezias
“JZ” Calvancante.

“Maybe we can fight by the end of
this year if K-1 can make it happen,” Melendez said.

Never one to look past an opponent, Melendez
is focused on the business at hand and that business for now starts and stops
with Tetsuji Kato.

“I get extra motivated because I
hear people say ‘oh, you’re going to walk through this guy’ which I never, ever
think that,” said Melendez about his opponent. “I need to make sure that I
don’t think that, that I don’t underestimate him.”

Dealing with a nine-month-plus
layoff since his last fight, Melendez is determined to get back into full-time
competition and is not happy at all that he had to wait that long for a fight.

“This has been too long and I’m
upset with how some of the things worked out, and I’m upset I had to wait this
long to fight,” stated Melendez.

Kato may be the unlucky recipient of
the anger and frustration that Melendez has been feeling. Fans will find out
for sure at the StrikeForce show on Saturday night at the Playboy Mansion.

Strikeforce will stream its Sept. 29 “Strikeforce at the
Mansion” event, including Melendez’s fight, live to a worldwide audience
exclusively at Yahoo! Sports.