Storming to a 19-2 record, Gilbert Melendez built a good reputation in the MMA world, but everything changed three weeks ago when his promotion was purchased by the UFC. It’s like starting all over for Melendez.
The Strikeforce lightweight champ knows, that as part of the Zuffa family, he’s just another name, and he’s okay with that. Melendez faces Tatsuya Kawajiri (Showtime 10 p.m. ET/PT) in his first fight under the UFC/Strikeforce banner and views, this his 21st professional fight, as a time to prove himself all over again.
"I’m a big fish in a smaller pond in Strikeforce, now I’m a good-sized fish in an ocean. For some other fighters, I don’t know what size a fish they’re going to be in this ocean right now," Melendez said on DC and the Sunshine Man on ESPN1100 in Las Vegas (2:30 mark). "If you’re ready to deliver and ready to work hard like I plan on doing, I think I’ll fit in just fine out here."
If Melendez keeps winning he’s got a chance to blow up with a whole new set of fans.
"I have the marketing machine of the UFC behind me and that’s the main thing," Melendez said. "Strikeforce is a great organization. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s hard to brand yourself in that organization. It’s hard to get respect from the common fan. For the common fan, if I’m not associated with Zuffa they think I’m in the minor leagues."
"There’s mixed emotions. The UFC is real cutthroat. In this business you’re only as good as your last fight. That added pressure is on a lot of these fighters, There’s a lot of fighters who are borderline with that," Melendez said. "If you’re a fighter who trains hard and takes it serious, treat it like a pro, you’ll be alright. […] These guys are going to have to deliver that’s all there is to it."
Melendez told us he’s always eyed the UFC as an eventual destination. Because of a non-compete clause in his Strikeforce contract, he’d actually considered sitting out a year to get his shot at guys like UFC champ Frank Edgar, Gray Maynard and Anthony Pettis.
Melendez also added a nice note about Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. He was asked if he felt bad for Coker, who doesn’t really have his own promotion to run anymore. Melendez said he did feel for Coker, but the longtime promoter handled the sale with class and even called some fighters on the day of the announcement to ask them how they were doing, putting aside his own feelings to make sure his fighters understood what was happening.