Cesar Gracie “Somewhat Disappointed” That Gilbert Melendez Remaining in Strikeforce
Says Jorge Masvidal Can “Beat Anyone on Any Given Night”
By Kelsey Mowatt
Several weeks ago, it seemed like for many observers throughout the MMA world, Gilbert Melendez’s bout with Jorge Masvidal Saturday was somewhat of an afterthought. After all, not only was there considerable speculation that the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion could be UFC bound, but Melendez was, and continues to be, a heavy favorite. According to the lightweight’s manager and trainer Cesar Gracie, however, they’ve never lost sight of the challenges Masvidal could present tomorrow night.
“His whole game; he has underrated submissions, and he has really good boxing skills,” Gracie said when asked to evaluate Masvidal. “I’ve been watching this guy for a while and I think that on any given night he can beat just about anybody. He just hasn’t been consistent enough throughout his career to be a household name yet, but he’s a very dangerous opponent and Gil’s going to have to be on for this fight.”
While Masvidal (22-6) is 3-2 in his last five fights, he is coming off impressive wins over KJ Noons and Billy Evangelista, after losing to welterweight vet Paul Daley last September. Melendez (19-2), however, has won five straight fights, and with one sided wins over noted competitors like Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri, he’s further established himself as one of the world’s best 155’ers.
“I think Gil’s aware of how tough Jorge is, but he’s also aware of how tough he is, and he has a lot of confidence in his skills and his abilities,” said Gracie. “When I first heard about this fight, I wasn’t that thrilled about it, as like I said, he’s someone who can probably beat anyone on any given night. If Gil wins, that’s what’s supposed to happen, and if he loses, it’s devastating.”
“Gil’s going to have to keep a fast pace on him,” Gracie added, while discussing what Melendez needs to do to continue his title reign. “Get his punches in and get out, and if necessary, put this guy on his back.”
Of course, tomorrow’s fight in San Diego arrives during the same week that Strikeforce and Showtime have reached a new broadcasting agreement, and that as a result, parent company Zuffa will continue operating the promotion for at least six to eight more events. According to reports, UFC President Dana White also relayed that Melendez will remain with Strikeforce, ending speculation for the time being that the champ might join teammates Nick Diaz and Jake Shields in the UFC.
“This news just did come out over the last couple of days and Gil has enough on his plate right now; he has a really big fight in front of him, so we didn’t even touch on this in conversation,” said Gracie about Melendez, who hasn’t been shy about the fact that he wants to challenge for the UFC title at some juncture. “After this next fight we’ll sit down and look at everything. He does have a good contract with Strikeforce; he is getting paid well…from a financial standpoint he’s just fine, but Gilbert’s a competitor and he wants to prove that he’s the best 155 pound fighter in the world.”
If Melendez defeats Masvidal Saturday night, then the discussion will immediately turn to who will challenge him next. It remains to be seen whether Zuffa will draw from within the Strikeforce ranks, look outside the organization, or possibly bring a challenger over from the UFC.
“Part of me is somewhat disappointed that Gil’s going to stay in Strikeforce,” said Gracie, when asked if he would have preferred to see his long time student transition to the UFC. “It’s not that it’s not a really good organization, but let’s face it, a lot of the top stars have left and I know how good Gil is. I would like to show other people how good he is, and the only way to do that is to fight the guys in the UFC. If Gil gets by Masvidal, their talent pool is decreasing; he’s already beaten everybody there.”
Tomorrow’s Strikeforce card will be hosted by San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center and will be broadcast on Showtime.