He is the last superstar left in Strikeforce.
Over the past few months, the UFC has cherry picked the fighters they want to bring over since the purchase of Strikeforce.
Among the people who made the switch are former Strikeforce main event fighters Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson. Gina Carano has not been discussed because the UFC has not shown any inclination to want to promote women’s MMA.
However, the one man the UFC has not brought over yet is Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. A few months ago, UFC President Dana White commented that Melendez was on his way to the sport’s top promotion.
Melendez was very happy to hear White’s comments.
“I reached out to Dana ‘Yo, let me know. I’m ready when you are,” Melendez said. “I was even willing to sit out for a while to come to the UFC.”
That deal, however, never came to pass. Instead, Melendez is set to defend his title against fast-rising Jorge Masvidal on Saturday, December 17 on Showtime.
“He’s very talented,” Melendez said of Masvidal. “I think he’s underrated, but the more and more I watch tape, I think there are some holes in there that I can expose.”
With the big prize of a UFC title shot seemingly in Melendez’s not-too-distant future, he understands that he has to keep focused.
“This is where I’m supposed to choke, right?” Melendez said. “This is what motivates me. This fight is for myself, to show I can stay focused. I know what’s on the line here.”
Masvidal has the reputation of someone who is a feared striker.
“People act like I should be super scared,” Melendez said.
“Someone like (Shinya) Aoki you’re not scared of because he might tap you, but he won’t hurt you. Jorge likes to hit hard, but the more I see, the more he likes to run.”
Melendez still realizes that Frankie Edgar, and the UFC championship may not be that far off.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Melendez said of a possible fight with Edgar.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff just outside of the UFC.”
Edgar and Melendez have very similar styles. Both have great conditioning, fight a very a fast pace and have a strong wrestling background.
“I think he’s an amazing fighter,” Melendez said, when asked about Frankie Edgar.
“I like his style. He’s very smart. He goes top, low, middle. He uses kicks. I think some of his defense could use a little work on the stand-up.”
Melendez has already has his strategy of how to win the title from Edgar.
“Does it look like he can’t be dethroned? No. Does he look untouchable? No. We’ve seen how to beat him-for one round, but can you keep it up for two or three? I think I can keep it up for five.”
A fight with Edgar could be an instant classic in the way many of Edgar’s UFC fights have been. Edgar has already won many Fight of the Night bonuses.
Melendez is not the only one from his training camp looking for a UFC title. One of Melendez’s closest friends, the enigmatic Nick Diaz, is preparing to vie for the UFC welterweight championship in February 2012.
Ever since defeating BJ Penn at UFC 137, Diaz has seen his popularity skyrocket. Melendez realizes that Diaz’s rise will help the entire Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu training camp.
“Nick Diaz is a friend of mine,” Melendez said. “We’re a team. Because of them, I’m way more popular. I’m honored. They don’t let that many people in.”
Diaz is known for displaying a somewhat puzzling public persona. He has missed press conferences, failed drug tests and got into unplanned televised brawls.
“He’s not really sure what people’s intentions are,” Melendez said, when asked about Diaz.
“If you get to know him, he’s a very smart, intelligent guy. He’s a fighter. Maybe he didn’t anticipate being an entertainer.”
“He just beat BJ Penn. That’s crazy”
While Diaz shies away from media appearances, Melendez understands that interviews and marketing can play a big role in a fighter’s popularity.
“We don’t really talk about the media that much,” Melendez said.
“I encourage Nate (Diaz) to do it. We back each other up with what we’re good at. I’m more than happy to talk on our team’s behalf if I can.”
Melendez would clearly like to be participating in press conferences that are with the UFC. Even though Masvidal is next, he clearly has his sights set on the Zuffa’s number one promotion.
“I want to be the UFC champ,” Melendez said.
“That’s the goal. When you’re the UFC champ, you’re No. 1 in the world. The goal is to be in the UFC ASAP.”
When asked who would win Edgar’s upcoming title defense, Melendez said that Edgar will defeat Henderson.
“I think he’s going to hold the belt—until I get over to the UFC.”