by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Cesar Gracie fighter Gilbert Melendez personifies the new generation of MMA fighter. He’s young, having grown up around the development of the sport, he’s very well-rounded, a byproduct of the evolution of the sport, and has put the old guard on notice that the next generation isn’t on its way, it’s here now.

This past year Melendez went from up and comer to serious title contender, having risen to status of Shooto’s number one ranked 143lb fighter, behind only longtime champion Alexandre Franca “Pequeno” Nogueira. And if that wasn’t good enough, Melendez is poised to have a breakout year, starting next month in California and hopefully culminating in his long-awaited showdown with Pequeno.

“It went great,” said Gilbert to MMA Weekly of his 2005. “I was looking forward to ending it off with the Shooto title in December, but it didn’t work out. I made some progress in Japan; I made the number one contendership. It was nice to fight (Naoya) Uematsu in May, which went really well, I managed to get the TKO. Then I got a chance to fight Rumina Sato, a legend, and it went really well too and I ended up beating him in the first round. So it was a pretty good year.”

Melendez continued, “I’m very happy with my performances and I just keep on learning. I feel like a sponge and feel like I picked a lot up in 2005 between the two fights I had. Even now I pick up a lot in stand-up, grappling, determination and all.”

Currently Gilbert is in preparations for his first fight of the year on the undercard of the highly anticipated Frank Shamrock VS Cesar Gracie fight taking place in San Jose, California on March 10th. Melendez is slated to face David Padilla in a 150lb battle. And while Gilbert is the overwhelming favorite in the fight, he’s not taking it lightly and says he will be ready for anything.

“It’s a chance for me to show my skills to my friends and family,” said an enthusiastic Melendez. “They’ve all heard about me fighting and people have been hearing about it but no one has had the chance to see it, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m training really, really hard and I’m fighting a guy who’s 5-4 and may not have the greatest record but I’m not going to take him lightly. I’m not going to give this guy a chance to beat me, so I’ll be in there 100% and I’m looking to put on a really entertaining fight and do a lot of damage to this guy.”

If all goes well for Gilbert and he comes out of his fight with Padilla unscathed, he is next slated to return to Japan for his long awaited title fight against Nogueira. “I’m definitely waiting for that shot and it’s supposed to happen May 12th is what I know. But I’ve been getting a lot of calls from friends and everyone saying they’ve read interviews from Pequeno saying he wants to fight Kid Yamamoto, Rumina Sato – to defend his title against him – and my name’s not being mentioned at all. I don’t want to badmouth anyone but I’m really starting to feel that this cat’s trying running from me.”

Melendez further commented, “If he doesn’t want to fight me on May 12th, then I’m going to start really saying he’s scared of me. Hopefully May 12th it’s going down and I can win that title then go back up to 155 where I belong and start having new goals.”

Among those goals is firmly establishing himself as a top ten fighter in multiple weightclasses. A goal he hopes to begin to achieve with a win over Alexandre, “I want to make the transition to first becoming the number one 145lb fighter in the world. I think by beating Pequeno I can really establish myself as that person. Then I’d definitely like to go up to 155 and become the top contender there, that’s my goal for 2006 is to be a top contender at 155, then by 2007, 2008 become a top three guy at 155 or 160, whatever they want.”

Gilbert added, “I want to be the best and in order to do that I have to fight the best and if they’re not in Shooto or they can’t give me the fights at 155 I may have to go other places. I loved fighting for Rumble on the Rock, I loved fighting for Shooto and I’d be very interested in fighting for K-1 Hero’s or Pride, that’s where all the top dogs are and I want to fight all those guys. Definitely I want to branch off anywhere I can get a good fight.”

Always one to be thankful of those who support him, in concluding the interview Melendez wanted to make sure to give thanks to the people who give him what he needs to continue to become one of the top stars in the business. “I want to thank Fairtex for helping me out and www.BetCris.com, they’ve been helping out also, I appreciate it. Let the fans know that 2006 is definitely my year, they’re going to see a lot of Gilbert Melendez. I’m going to be an entertaining fighter and I thank them for all their support.”