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Gilbert Melendez: Getting ready for the Playboy Mansion

Coming into his Strikeforce: Revenge match against Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez on June 9, 2006, Clay "The Carpenter" Guida held a 19-4 record and was coming off of a victory over the well- respected Josh Thomson. But when the dust cleared, Guida's record was increased in the loss column by one.

Coming into his PRIDE: Bushido 12 match on August 26, 2006 with Melendez, Nobuhiro Obaya was an undefeated fighter. Afterwards, he too had his loss column total increase by a single digit.

Finally, on December 31, 2006, Tatsuya Kawajiri?one of the best lightweight fighters in the world? took on Melendez at PRIDE: Shockwave 2006. Beforehand, Kawajiri held a 19-3-2 record and had won four straight.

Afterwards, as the story often seems to go, Kawajiri had one more loss and Melendez had another win. Anyone else picking up on a pattern here? sure has, and that's the reason why Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez is currently falling in at number three in their lightweight rankings. So as we get closer to the Strikeforce at the Playboy Mansion event on September 29th when Melendez?the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion?is slated to take on former Shooto star Tetsuji Kato, it only seemed fitting to see how the champ was doing. How's training been going?

Melendez: It's been going good, man. I'm just winding up and ready to fight. I've put a lot of time in and am sick of training. I'm ready to take it out on this guy. Who have you been doing most of your training with?

Melendez: My main sparring sessions have been with Nathan Diaz and Jake Shields. And I've got a group of top up and comers that beat on me all the time. Coming from Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, you've obviously got a great camp including some of the guys you just spoke of. Do you feel that your camp gets the kind of attention it should for the kinds of fighters it turns out?

Melendez: You know, I never really think about that stuff. I just look at what's on paper. We've just been delivering as a team. We've been beating everybody. It doesn't really matter what people say; just look at the top ten lightweights, the top ten 170 pounders. Nate's going to be in the top ten in no time. No doubt. So what do you think of your opponent at Strikeforce at the Playboy Mansion, Tetsuji Kato?

Melendez: He's a living legend and has been around forever. He's fought the best. He's fought Sakurai (and) Anderson Silva. I definitely respect the guy. People think that I should beat him up, but I know that he's going to be a tough opponent. I'm not underestimating him. He's also bigger and is coming down in weight.

Melendez: Exactly. He's a big guy; a lot of people don't understand that. He fought Anderson Silva and Sakurai at 170. Kato is also a good submission fighter with eight career submissions. In terms of the guys you train with?the Diaz's, Shields, Terrell, etc.?how does training with guys with that caliber of jiu-jitsu help in getting ready for a guy like Kato?

Melendez: Definitely helps. I've got all kinds of jiu-jitsu styles being thrown at me so I do feel prepared. But you're never as prepared as you want to be and you're never used to the exact style. But I'm pretty sure that I've seen most of the secret moves out there (laughing). Anybody who has ever seen you fight realizes that you're known for putting the pedal to the metal in fights. In other words, you just keep coming and your cardio always seems to be great. That said, you're coming off of a long layoff in terms of actual fights; you haven't fought since December of last year. Do you feel that layoff will impact your conditioning or overall game? Or do you think everything's going to be fine?

Melendez: I think I'm just going to be fine, and to make sure of that I trained extra hard for this fight. I started about ten weeks out training really hard, maybe even eleven weeks. Putting on the pressure, making sure I'm in good shape. If anything I trained too hard.

I know my cardio is there. I don't think I didn't do enough wrestling, enough jiu-jitsu, (or) enough stand up. . . But one thing I know for sure is that my cardio is there. In your last fight against Kawajiri?obviously a big time opponent?you got floored in the first round and came back to floor him later on. Along with that, the guys coming out of your camp?again, the Diaz's, yourself?you're just very hard to stop and never seem to quit. Why is it that so much heart and pride comes out of your camp?

Melendez: I don't know, maybe the fighting gods were good to us because for some reason they just put us altogether. I'll tell you what, we've got a group of savages. I've been to other gyms, and I've seen other people train. I've seen eagles come and play. When we meet up, we just meet up and fight. We just really fight each other. It's great training, we have no time for anyone to complain or cry. We get frustrated and all, but we're just there to fight. I think we really love to fight (and) we're pretty genuine about what we do. Where do you feel you rank among lightweights right now in MMA?

Melendez: You know, there's a lot of great lightweights right now. Some people have got me in the top five. I appreciate that a lot, I dig that. But right now there's about 15 lightweights that probably have a chance of being number one in the world on any given day. It really is a stacked division right now. It's unbelievable.

Melendez: It's a stacked division for sure. You've fought a lot of really good fighters, but two guys in particular recently in Guida and Kawajiri. How much does having fought guys of that caliber in big events gives you an advantage in a fight like this?

Melendez: It definitely gives me an advantage, because it's just experience. That's one thing I have now that a lot of experienced fighters had on me (before)?like Kawajiri. But now I think I've got there, I've been on the main stage. I think a lot of people see me on top and the tough thing now is to stay on top. Do you have a prediction for the fight?

Melendez: I have a prediction of me winning, period. That's what I go to do; I'm in it to win it. I'm ready to fight hard and win. I predict a win. However it goes down.

Melendez: Exactly. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Good luck, and I'm looking forward to the fight.

Melendez: I appreciate it. Thanks for the support and the help.