Melendez wants UFC shot but still ready to beat down Masvidal
Gilbert Melendez is in limbo. He’s been in limbo for so long, in fact, that limbo has become the status quo.
Melendez is the last man standing in Strikeforce, a promotion that seemed to be gasping for air just a few months ago, only to be resuscitated by Dana White and apparently given a new lease on life. His friend Nick Diaz dropped his Strikeforce welterweight title and scurried over to infamy and fortune in the UFC. Melendez was supposed to follow Diaz out the door, and White even told media earlier in the fall that he was working on getting Melendez over to the UFC as soon as possible.
And yet here sits Melendez, preparing to defend his Strikeforce lightweight title against Jorge Masvidal on Saturday night at the San Diego Sports Arena instead of beginning a training camp to face Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight title at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. If Melendez is disheartened by this turn of events, he’s doing his best not to show it.
“My life is too short and my career is too short to be too bitchy about this situation. I’ve got some fights that I may have to honor in Strikeforce because I have a contract with them,” Melendez says. “If I need to stay there, I’m going to be sure and be happy with it and deal with it. But the goal is be the best in the world and it’s tougher to do that in Strikeforce.”
All Melendez ever wanted was to be the best in the world. Well, that’s not entirely true. Mostly he wanted to fight, and he’s done that pretty well over the course of a nine-year career that has taken him from Santa Ana to Honolulu to Lemoore to Tokyo and back to San Francisco. He’s competed at Rumble on the Rock and in the WEC and PRIDE and has finally settled in Strikeforce despite not really wanting to be settled in Strikeforce.
What he really wants is to face Edgar or other top UFC lightweights, and he’s not getting the opportunity to do so. Sure, he puts on a good face and answers all of the questions in the non-controversial way that fighters tend to do. He says he’ll stick around Strikeforce if that’s what Zuffa wants. He’s a good company man, after all. But what he’d really like is for the UFC to either bring him into the Octagon or send some top lightweights his way.
“I think Jorge is like the last true challenge there. I think he is a true challenge and I think he’s better than a lot of lightweights in the UFC. But if I do get past this guy, and I plan on that, there really aren’t too many more people. He beat Evangelista. He beat K.J. Noons,” Melendez says. “It would be awesome if they did bring some top people from the UFC and did something interesting like that. But I don’t care. I love Strikeforce, I love Showtime and if they can bring some of the top guys over here, that would be pretty cool and interesting. Dana said he was going to make it worth our while, so I have to have faith in that.”
Despite what he says, I’m certain Melendez wants more than a spot in whatever Strikeforce becomes. I ask Phil Baldacci, Melendez’ long-time training partner and cornerman, if Gilbert seems more determined to prove to his new bosses that he’s worthy of being in the Octagon.
“I wouldn’t say he’s more determined, because he’s always determined to prove he’s the best, whether he’s in Strikeforce or the UFC,” Baldacci says. “Regardless of who he’s fighting or where he’s fighting, he knows he’s gotta go out and show everybody that he’s the best. I think that’s what drives him.”