Melendez stakes claim to lightweight gold
SAN DIEGO — For the last year, Gilbert Melendez has been telling everyone who will listen that he’s the best lightweight in the world. After Saturday night’s stunning first-round finish of Tatsuya Kawajiri, he might just have a case.
Melendez, who came into the cage after taking a year off, brutalized Kawajiri from the opening bell using a crisp display of technique and power. Kawajiri is often called one of the toughest and more durable lightweights in the world, but he stood no chance against Melendez in the cage.
The Strikeforce lightweight champion also benefited greatly from the new Unified ruleset put into place after last month’s purchase of the promotion by rival organization Zuffa. After dropping Kawajiri to the mat, Melendez unleashed a savage elbow that finished Kawajiri off and propelled Melendez to new stardom in the new unified North American mixed martial arts world.
After the bout, Melendez issued a charismatic plea for a shot at the UFC champion.
“I am the best lightweight in the world, and I think it’s time for title versus title. I want the UFC champion. It’s time to make it happen,” Melendez said. The crowd roared their approval.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker told HeavyMMA.com after the post-fight press conference that Melendez is hitting his stride at a perfect time.
“Gilbert was one of the few guys that grew in our league. When you think about the four pillars of Strikeforce, it was Cung Le, Frank Shamrock, Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez,” Coker said. “When people say he’s number two or three, I don’t buy it. He’s the best lightweight in the world. He’s been our go-to guy for the past five years. What a talent.”
Melendez may not have to wait long for a shot at the UFC champion. Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard will rematch at UFC 130, and Anthony Pettis has a title shot riding on a bout with Clay Guida this summer, but no lightweight in the world is better positioned than Melendez for the first crack at unifying the two championships. Coker told HeavyMMA.com that there are no legal obligations preventing Strikeforce fighters from facing off against UFC fighters.
Melendez said that the year off hadn’t hurt him one bit. “I don’t believe in ring rust. Ring rust is for guys who are lazy and don’t fight. I’m always fighting and always training,” Melendez said. “This is my job and this is my life. This is what I do, and I am always ready.”