by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
This past Friday at the HP Pavilion Arena in San Jose was a historic one. It marked the first time that MMA was officially sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission and with an attendance of 18,000 people became one of the largest events in American MMA history.

Among the feature fighters on the evening’s undercard to Frank Shamrock VS Cesar Gracie was number one ranked Shooto star Gilbert Melendez. In one of his tougher challenges to date, Melendez defeated an extremely game Harris Sarmiento 44 seconds into the second round and raised his professional record to an undefeated 9-0.

“I had some nerves in me,” admitted Melendez of his Northern California debut. “I was a little nervous fighting in front of that big crowd and my family and friends, but I was definitely excited. I did all right; the guy was a tough guy. I was forcing the takedown a lot, so I felt like I should have been a little more patient with that and set it up with better punches. Once I took it to the ground I felt like I was able to dominate, control, drop some punches and I got the TKO so that’s good.”

Gilbert’s fight with Harris became his first fight in the US in over 16 months in an environment and with rules he hasn’t been accustomed to lately. According to Melendez though it provided opportunities to open his game up and focus on the things he feels he excels at.

“I started out in the cage and got back to what I’m best at,” exclaimed Gilbert. “The cage is a little more wrestler-friendly and I could throw elbows again, in Japan I wasn’t able to, so I’ve got more weapons now with my ground ‘n pound. I was able to use the cage and elbows to my benefit this time. It’s actually better for me, I enjoyed it and I wouldn’t mind fighting in a cage again.”

Even though he was a bit nervous heading into the fight, overall the experience was very positive for Melendez and he realizes the importance of being a part of such a historic card. “I was definitely proud to be of that and it definitely crossed my mind more than a couple of times that I was a part of history. I’m honored and there were a lot of people there supporting the sport and I enjoyed it.”

Next up for Gilbert is supposedly his long awaited showdown with Shooto 143lb Champion “Pequeno” Alexandre Franca Nogueira in May. But over the past year this fight has been close to happening but has yet to fully materialize and according to Melendez, if it doesn’t happen now, he may have to move on to other opportunities.

“Either the Pequeno thing is going to happen in May or I have the feeling it’s not going to happen at all,” admitted Gilbert with some frustration. “We’re going to get things situated for that and if it doesn’t happen I’m going to move on. I’m going to try to fight other top people and make the move to 155lbs for good now. That’s what I’ve been looking forward to doing.”

Melendez continued, “That’s actually something I’m looking forward to, is moving up to 155 and fighting on those big shows like K-1, UFC, Pride, or the IFL. There’s a couple of name fighters in those companies that I’d like to get a hold of. The UFC I think I could be their champ if they let me in. I’d like to be part of the IFL. It sounds like a good situation, to be a part of a league, something consistent. I’ll fight anyone anywhere and that wouldn’t be a problem at all.”

It’s clear when Gilbert speaks of his future, it’s moving up in weight and establishing himself as one of the best in the lightweight division that would make this year a productive one.

“What I need to do establish myself as a 155lber, like a Top-10 contender, and to do that I need to beat top contenders. So hopefully my next two fights this year are going to be against top guys, someone with a name at 155 so I can start earning that respect, earning my ranking out there like I did at 145. That’s what’s going to take to make me happy and satisfied, get my name up there with the top 155lbers, I think I could beat lots of those guys… lots of them,” explained Melendez.

Gilbert concluded, “I want to thank all my fans; friends and family for coming out to the fight and all the people that have supported me. 2006 is still my year, it just started and I’ve got plenty more to come. I just also want to give thanks to Jake Shields for training me and Jongsen at Fairtex, NoGi and Fairtex Gear for sponsoring me and Project One.”