Gilbert Melendez On Fighting Benson Henderson At UFC On FOX 7: “I Was Licking My Chops Hoping To Get The Opportunity And Finally I Did”
By Kelsey Mowatt
Of all the Strikeforce title holders that have recently moved to the UFC, only Gilbert Melendez was tapped for a “champion versus champion” bout, when he takes on the promotion’s lightweight king Benson Henderson at UFC on FOX 7. While some Strikeforce boosters have argued that champions like Tarec Saffiedine and Luke Rockhold should have been given an opportunity to fight their UFC counterparts, it’s not surprising that only Melendez was granted a title fight.
Unlike Rockhold and Saffiedine, Melendez has been regarded as one of his division’s top competitors for several years, thanks to wins over noted lightweights like Josh Thomson, Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri among others. In addition, Melendez and many of his supporters have been arguing for some time that not only is the 31 year-old one of the sport’s top lightweights, but that he’s the best. As a result of a stellar resume, and a vigilant campaign to boot, Melendez will finally get his chance to prove he’s the world’s best lightweight Saturday night.
“Champion versus champion is a neat thing for me, but, I feel like in this case Benson’s the champ,” Melendez noted on a recent media call, while discussing his upcoming bout and what’s riding on the outcome. “I coming into the Octagon; a new organization. I fought the DREAM champ, I fought the Shooto champ, I’ve fought a lot of different champs with different rules, so this is a neat opportunity for me.”
“I’m definitely prepared,” added Melendez (21-2), who has won seven fights in a row heading into his UFC debut. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity. For a long time I’ve been trying to prove I’m number one and this is my opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Of course, several Strikeforce vets have already done their part to violently hush the narrative, which questioned whether the promotion’s fighters could compete in the UFC. Perhaps as a result, casual fans that paid little to no attention to Strikeforce during it’s existence, may not be so quick to dismiss Melendez.
“No, no pressure at all,” said Melendez, when asked if the Octagon performances of his fellow Strikeforce competitors have added pressure to Saturday’s bout. “I think it’s given me a little bit of confidence; seeing the guys do well is a little juice of energy. Just got to do our best out there.”
While the achievements and skills of Henderson and Melendez have, for good reason, dominated pre-fight discussion and debate, there is another interesting storyline that’s tied to the bout. Henderson is coming off a unanimous decision win over Melendez’s longtime training partner and friend, Nate Diaz, and if you’ve followed the Cesar Gracie camp, then you know the team is extremely close-knit.
“I would love to avenge my friend,” said Melendez, while discussing whether Diaz’s loss to Henderson in December is a source of motivation. “I would love to represent for my team. I’ve got to see what Benson is all about, front row, and of course, I’d love to get that for myself and for my teammate.”
“When you’re buddy’s fighting you can’t help but get a little emotional out there and passionate,” Melendez furthered about the UFC on FOX bout between Henderson and Diaz. “If you can back your friend up you will, and at that point I was like give me the opportunity to avenge my friend, give me the opportunity to fight this dude, I can do it. That was kind of going through my head; I was licking my chops hoping to get the opportunity and I did.”