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Interview: Gilbert Melendez talks Josh Thomson, Shinya Aoki

Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez is the fifth rated MMA lightweight on the planet, according to MMAFighting.com. That said, Melendez doesn't particularly like the number five. Four, three, and two don't really suit him either.

"I just want to be number one in the world, is that too much to ask for, man?" he says with a hint of B.J. Penn in his voice.

The interesting thing, however, is that although the man with a 14-1 overall MMA record feels that way from an individual angle, he's as much a part of a team as you'll see in an individual sport like MMA. In fact, all of those guys affiliated with Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu are, and you can feel it every time one of them speaks.


"Oh that was an awesome triangle, man," Melendez said, describing what his teammate and friend Nathan Diaz pulled off against Kurt Pellegrino. "That just shows a lot of heart, a lot of will. If he didn't get the triangle he was (still) going to start winning the fight."

That's pride in a teammate, folks, coming through loud and clear.

So now as Melendez readies to put his Strikeforce Lightweight belt on the line against the always- dangerous Josh Thomson on June 27th at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA, MMAFighting.com's Robert Rousseau decided to see what was on the mind of a man with both individual and team dreams.

MMAFighting.com: How's training been going?

Gilbert Melendez: Good. I'm actually right here in San Diego training with Diego Sanchez... just for the week, getting some jiu jitsu in and working out hard.

MMAFighting.com: With Diego Sanchez... Have you ever trained with him before?

Gilbert Melendez: Definitely... This week I came out here to stay with him, train with him.

MMAFighting.com:
That's awesome. Have you also been training with Diaz, Shields, and your normal group?

Gilbert Melendez: Of course, all the time. Right now I'm just trying to fix up a little jiu jitsu, just trying to get something going here.

MMAFighting.com: Well, Diego's a great guy to workout with for sure for that.

Gilbert Melendez: He definitely is.

MMAFighting.com:
What do you think of your opponent, Josh Thomson?

Gilbert Melendez: Josh Thompson is a very tough, talented guy. I've already trained with him, so I respect the guy?so it has nothing to do that. I think he's a tough guy, someone I've got to train hard for. But definitely someone I'm going to beat.

MMAFighting.com: Two fights ago you lost for the first time in your career to Mitsuhiro Ishida. Did you learn anything in that fight?

Gilbert Melendez: Definitely. I learned a lot about preparing, (the) proper way to train, and just to relax a little more. You learn a lot from a loss, and I definitely did.

MMAFighting.com:
Obviously, losing is no fun no matter what you're doing or what the situation. Still, did you take anything positive out of the fact that you were really?at least in my opinion? beginning to exert your will on him at the end of the fight? Did you that give you something positive to walk away with?

Gilbert Melendez: Yeah, definitely. I had a little trouble warming up in the back. I warmed up a little too late. I felt like if there was more time I would have beat him. I really did feel that. But he was the better fighter that day. He was smarter. He had a game plan, I didn't. I had it in kill mode, and that's what I learned from that fight, to be a little more patient. You don't always have to be a bull. Next time I'll be a little bit more of a rattlesnake instead of a bull.

MMAFighting.com: In your next fight after that you looked absolutely great. How did training go before your fight with Gabe Lemley?

Gilbert Melendez:
It went great. I was preparing for Josh Thompson and Jorge Masvidal... I was training really hard. I felt like training went great. I was motivated. A loss kicks you in the butt and helps you get pumped up. So, I didn't like the feel of anything (and) the first thing I did was hit the gym. There was no party time or anything (like that) after my fight? it was all gym time.

MMAFighting.com: We're kind of entering a new age in MMA, one where it's beginning to get in the spotlight more and more. TV deals are abound with Strikeforce and NBC, EliteXC and CBS, HDNet Fights, and Inside MMA. How much do you think a win over Josh Thompson, given the current state of things, might do for your visibility and career?

Gilbert Melendez:
I think it's going to help a lot for the true MMA fans who really know the sport. Obviously, he's not ranked in the top 10, but in my opinion he could easily beat any of those guys in the top 10 on a good day. So I think his experience and all that? it's going to be good for me.

MMAFighting.com: The thing about all of you guys?you, the Diaz's, Jake Shields, all of them? is that no matter what anybody says you never give up. You're always in the fight for as long as the fight goes on. How do you guys get that going? Is there something about the way you workout, the way you train, or is it just who you are?

Gilbert Melendez:
We train together and we came up together. A lot of teams, for instance the Xtreme Couture team or AKA, they're a team, but there's not that many teams who started together from scratch. And we all basically did. We all grew together, we all fought together, we all train together. . .

(We're) just a bunch of guys that like to fight, that like to train. We can beat each other up and there's no frustration, there's no real shit talking. It's just hard training.

MMAFighting.com:
Sounds like you guys are a real team.

Gilbert Melendez: A real team, definitely.

MMAFighting.com: Assuming this fight goes well and you're able to beat Josh Thompson, is there anybody out there either in the Strikeforce organization or outside the Strikeforce organization that you would really love to have the chance to compete against?

Gilbert Melendez:
There's plenty of people? I'd love to fight Aoki, who they're making a real big hype about. I almost had a chance but it never worked out. I'd love to fight someone like Sean Sherk or even B.J. Penn. I only say that about Penn because I know the guy personally... So I don't really want to fight him, but out of respect for myself I do want to fight him. I do want to test myself with the best. I want to beat the best.

MMAFighting.com:
You want to go up against the guys with the best skills and see where you're at.

Gilbert Melendez: Yeah, I just want to be number one in the world, is that too much to ask for, man?

MMAFighting.com: Hey, you sounded like B.J. Penn there (laughing). Do you have a prediction for the fight?

Gilbert Melendez: I predict a high paced fight and a victory. It's going to be a battle; it's going to be high paced, a lot of pressure. It's going to be a pound out. . .I'm going to be dropping a lot of punches on Josh.

MMAFighting.com: Do you have anything to say to your fans?

Gilbert Melendez: I just want to thank all of my fans for all the love and support. I appreciate everything that you bring.

MMAFighting.com: Thanks for taking the time, Gilbert.

Gilbert Melendez: No problem.