It's no secret by now that mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the country, perhaps the world.
For most, the organization that is recognized most closely associated with the sport is the UFC. Many feel that if a fighter isn't fighting for Dana White inside the Octagon that he is somehow inferior in talent and his organization is simply a cheap imitation of the largest fighting organization in the world.
Gilbert Melendez and Strikeforce are focused on changing the minds of those fans, proving that there are great fights and fighters all around the world, not just the UFC.
Melendez, the current Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, is currently preparing for a title defense this Saturday at Strikeforce: Nashville against Japanese star and DREAM Lightweight champion, Shinya Aoki.
The fighter known to many as "El Nino" took time out of his training schedule to speak exclusively to Bleacher Report about a variety of topics, including the notion that only the UFC is home to good fighters.
"The UFC spotlight is where you get famous. You could lose two fights in the UFC, open your own gym, and make a career out of it. Guys like me and Jake Shields have chosen a different path. We haven't gone to the UFC yet and that's okay. I believe in Strikeforce, and what they are trying to do here. Strikeforce is definitely the best place for me and my career right now."
Even though the UFC may have the deepest pools of talent, that doesn't mean Melendez can't test himself against many very good fighters that would push him to become a great fighter.
"I've beaten guys from all over the world, and there are still guys out there that can help me elevate my game. Aoki is the latest challenge before me, but there are more guys out there that I'd love to fight in the future.
Eddie Alvarez is a guy I'd love to fight. If we could do a cross promotion with Bellator, I think we'd have a great fight. I won't turn down a challenge, and would like to fight anyone ranked in the top 10."
Although there are fights out there that Melendez may be thinking about, he is in no way looking past Aoki or their fight this coming weekend. He knows this fight will cement his place among the pound-for-pound best in the world, and he has no intentions of losing it.
"Beating Aoki would make a big statement to those that have doubted me. I'm aware of how good he is. He has great submissions, and I don't want to end up on my back. But if I end up there, I'll know what to do and how to handle it."
Saying one can handle a tough situation and actually doing it are two distinctly different notions. Melendez wants to keep the fight standing if possible, and he was adamant about not fearing being in any position against the DREAM champion.
"Do I want Aoki on top of me? Hell no, but I'm not scared and I won't be scared if he does put me on my back. I'm going to do my best to knock him out while we're standing, but I've been trained extremely well for every possible scenario. No matter what happens in our fight, I'll be prepared for it.
Lack of preparation won't be an excuse if I somehow lose this fight. But I'm not thinking about losing, I'm completely focused on beating Aoki and winning this fight."
Melendez knows success inside the cage can lead to opportunities outside of it, like his recent appearance on NCIS: Los Angeles. It was a new experience, but something he would love to do more of.
"That was a lot of fun. Meeting LL Cool J and getting to try something new was a good time. I wish we could have had a bigger role, but it was still a blast. I'd love to give acting a try again in the future, but fighting will always be my top priority."
More mainstream exposure will only enhance Melendez climb to the top and become known a top fighter in the sport. He has avenged his only two losses in the sport, so any and all wins from this point forward only had to his resume in becoming the best lightweight fighter in the world.
Although his future could one day involve the UFC and their lightweight fighters, Melendez is confident in his abilities and future with Strikeforce. He respects the top fighters in other organizations, but he feels he is as talented as any fighter in the sport.
"Takanori Gomi is one of my heroes in the sport. He, BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, and Kenny Florian are all great fighters that I would love to one day fight. I respect anyone that steps inside the cage to fight, but I think I can beat anyone in the world right now."
Gilbert Melendez has the talent, skill, and belief in one's self to become the very best in the world. The only thing that is missing now is the recognition from the MMA fans both hardcore and casual. A win Saturday night on CBS will be the final piece of the puzzle to make the 28-year-old Melendez a household name.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here .