Following frenzied speculation and prolonged deliberation, the Strikeforce Lightweight title bout has officially been confirmed for 17th December, with Gilbert Melendez aiming to defend his belt prior to a desired shift to the UFC and a potential unification tilt with Frankie Edgar. I recently caught up with the man who stands directly in the way of his aspirations, title challenger Jorge "Gamebred" Masvidal, to obtain his thoughts on the fight, and a miscellany of other topics.
JS: Buenos dias Jorge. With regards to your December Lightweight title clash against Gilbert Melendez, your close friend and business partner Isaac Kesington (Genghis Con) believes you’ll pick him apart on the feet en route to a unanimous decision victory.
JM: Yeah man, I’m gonna beat him up. I’m keeping that fight wherever I want it. I can take him down, or I’ll just keep hitting him in the face til he doesn’t want to be hit no more. I’m happy I got the fight because Melendez is one of the world’s top lightweights. According to most people, he is considered top three.
Most of the time when I enter a fight, I’m not looking to stop a guy, but rather win a solid decision, but in this fight, I’m going for the stoppage. I’m going to put the pressure on him and make him break. I don’t want to leave it in the judges hands, especially with all the f*cked up decisions these days. This is my title shot and I have to take full advantage. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another one. Who knows what’s gonna happen in life?
JS: Well you have five rounds in which to finish him. Because you are predominantly viewed as a striker, do you feel people tend to underestimate your wrestling?
JM: For the most part yeah. People see me jab and move my head and just pigeonhole me as a pure striker, but I’ve also been wrestling my whole life. Circumstances meant that I never got the chance to attend college and compete in wrestling, but I love wrestling. I train it as much as my stand-up, with a group of tough guys.
JS: I find it unbelievable the way your rapport with filmmaker Genghis Con commenced, with him contacting you via Facebook. It underscores the popular notion that MMA fighters are the most accessible athletes in all of professional sports. Are you generally an open-minded guy, willing to embrace opportunities?
JM: Not really. Not always. I mean, I have to like the person. Or we have to have similar tastes. Isaac loves fighting, he loves women. He hustles hard. I typed to him a couple times and I knew he was my partner. Next thing you know, he was in Miami shooting film on me.
JS: Do you generally respond to your fans on social networks, or has it become increasingly difficult as your status grows?
JM: I try to stay on top of it, but my manager generally handles my Facebook the best she can. I’m not particularly good with computers, and I’m not always on Facebook. I apologise to any fans that I haven’t responded to on Facebook. Please don’t take it personal.
JS: It looks like you’re always enjoying yourself whilst being filmed. Is it fair to say that you thrive on being in front of the camera? Are you a natural showman? Or are you generally just a jovial, happy-go-lucky character?
JM: Always enjoying myself just doing what I do. I don’t even think about being filmed. The camera is there, but I just do me. People will love me or hate me. But what people may respect and like about me is that I do me. The camera don’t change me. If I’m in my house, playing video games, talking sh*t, eating brownies in the morning. That isn’t for the camera. That’s me.
JS: Generally from what I’ve read and heard, you’re well-liked amongst the MMA community. I think your amiable personality is conveyed effectively through “Miami Hustle”, with the show endearing you to a lot of fans. Would you like to ultimately delve into the world of film akin to your MMA contemporaries, namely Quinton Jackson and Randy Couture?
JM: Listen man, if the money was right, then definitely. But my No. 1 concern is to establish myself as the number one lightweight in the world. After that, whatever happens.
JS: Isaac mentioned that your training partner Alexis Vila is an absolute beast, and can overpower guys in the weight classes above him? Will he be the UFC 125lb/ 135lb champion when he makes it into the organisation?
JM: Man, ask any of his training partners or coaches. Alexis is a different type of athlete. A great athlete that applies himself hard. Most of the time, talented athletes don’t apply themselves too much because they know they’re already ahead of the curve. But Alexis trains like he’s a nobody, a bum, the most unathletic guy in the gym, even though he’s a three-time wrestling world champion and Olympic bronze medallist, so actually he’s a stud. He’s a different type of athlete, he’s not a human being. He’s only 135lbs, but he can put me down. He can put anyone down.
JS: Why wasn’t he accepted onto the latest TUF with all the lighter weight classes?
JM: Yeah, he went and tried out man, but with his record and stuff (side note: Alexis was charged with committing a terrorist act in 2004 and sent to prison for three years), that’s probably why he didn’t get on. But he would have smashed some dudes. I don’t want to disrespect the guys on the show, but I’m just being real. Vila would have smashed them. There ain’t nobody that can stop his takedowns. And with his stand up. I tell people he hits hard, and now against Joe Warren people have seen how hard he hits.
JS: Is your training partner Hector Lombard rightly a top 10 MW globally? Even if he hasn’t fought his peers ranked alongside him?
JM: He’d smash people, man; he’d do really well. I can promise you that. We get guys in our gym from the UFC and from all over the world, and he blazes a lot of them. I don’t know how many guys he has knocked out unconscious in training. And he does it during fights also. He’s a monster in the gym and when it’s game time.
JS: Your record of 22-6 is strong within the context of MMA, especially when one considers the calibre of fighter you’ve encountered, many of whom have/do ply their trade in the UFC.
JM: Nah man, I’ve been robbed a couple of times. In fact, go back and watch my losses and you’ll clearly see about four blatant robberies. So I’m not happy that my record has six losses. I was particularly unhappy with the sole technical knockout loss on my record, because the referee intervened way too early to make that decision. Please go and watch that fight online, and that will illustrate what I mean. It’s a horrible stoppage. I ain’t never been close to being knocked out. But it’s cool, because maybe people will underestimate me in the future because of that.
JS: That’s neatly leads me onto my next question. Despite your impressive resume, it has taken a while for you to be granted a title shot in a major organisation. Are you only now being paid your dues in being finally acknowledged as one of the best Lightweights in the world?
JM: I hope people overlook me. I’ve been paying my dues for a while, beating ranked guys. But I really don’t care. I’m gonna smash Gilbert, get a nice paycheque and then onto the next one.
JS: Do you attribute the fact that you’ve never properly been KO’d to your elusive style, or granite chin?
JM: I’d say it was a combination of both. I haven’t got the greatest chin of all time, but I have a solid chin. I take good shots all the time. But more than anything, it’s probably my elusive style. One of the first things I learnt in boxing was the defensive aspect, how to move my legs and head. During my fights, I only tend to get hit a few times cleanly, if that.
JS: If Melendez does manage to take the fight to the mat, could we witness only your second ever submission victory?
JM: I don’t like too many submissions, man. I like to punch guys in the face repeatedly. If he takes me down, I’m gonna pop back up. Or if I take somebody down, I wanna wind up on top so I can punch the dude. But yeah, I work on my BJJ everyday with the guys at ATT. And yeah, maybe I would like to add another submission to my record.
Winning via submission was cool. Knockouts and submissions are cool. But my favourite way to beat somebody is to beat them up, like in my recent Evangelista and KJ Noons fight. Sometimes, it’s almost disappointing to finish a guy in the first round. I like to comprehensively beat somebody up in every area of the game. The guys who always stuck out to me were Pernell Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather. You can do whatever you want to those guys, but you just aren’t going to win. Like against me, throw, kick, but you just aren’t going to get the better of me.
Stoppages are cool, but most of the time, I’m just content to beat somebody up. And in fact, my favourite type of KO is via a body blow, because your opponent makes a conscious decision to end the fight. When you knock somebody unconscious, they are left with no choice in the matter.
JS: That makes sense. In terms of UFC, I saw you tweet about winning the Strikeforce title and then heading over to the UFC to win their LW strap. Is this the plan?
JM: Wherever the money’s at is where I’ll be at. I’m happy to be in the UFC or Strikeforce, as long as I’m getting paid the money I deserve.
JS: Do you believe that overcoming Melendez would warrant an instant shot at the UFC belt? Which matchups over in the UFC intrigue you the most? Edgar, Henderson, Guida, Lauzon, Maynard?
JM: Of course. I want to face the biggest challenges. But most important is the money, because I have a family to feed. I go after the money hard. Any one of them dudes you mentioned, I don’t care. I’d be happy to fight them all. Ideally, if I become Strikeforce champion I’d get the UFC title shot, but I won’t lose any sleep over it. At the end of the day we are all under Zuffa ownership, so they’re going to do what’s best for us. And, whilst I don’t got nothing against these guys, I’d like to fight people like Toby Imada and Paul Daley again just to avenge the losses.
JS: OK, well thanks a lot for your time today, Jorge. It’s been a pleasure.
JM: Hey no, thank you, man.
Follow Jorge on Twitter @GamebredFighter
Follow me on Twitter @jonathanshrager