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Gilbert Melendez owns his 'mistake,' says he's ready to move on from suspension

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When Gilbert Melendez returns on July 23 for his fight with Edson Barboza at UFC on FOX 20, it will have been 13 months since he last competed in the UFC. Melendez dropped a split decision to Eddie Alvarez at UFC 188 in Mexico City, and was subsequently suspended for testing positive for testosterone metabolites.

Since that time, "El Nino" hasn’t spoken about the incident, other than to issue an initial statement.

"Regrettably, I tested positive in my post fight urine sample for UFC 188," Melendez said last July. "I did not inject anything, but I am responsible and accept the consequences for the results.  I will make sure I am better educated about the products I use and their implications. Going forward I will ensure no products I use will contain banned substances. I am sincerely apologetic to everyone who supports me, including my fans, sponsors and the UFC.  I value your trust and respect and will do everything in my power to keep it."

Yet on Monday, Melendez made a public appearance on The MMA Hour, and brushed on the topic of his suspension. When asked to clarify what had happened, instead of getting into specifics, Melendez owned up to his mistake.

"Well, you know what, I really don’t want to go down a rabbit hole or anything like that," he told Ariel Helwani. "But the gist of it is I made a mistake. I made a mistake that won’t happen again, and I’m not proud of it. I’m doing my best to move on from it, and I’m hoping everyone else can, and it’s understandable if they can’t. But I just want to do everything in my power to prove that I am still a warrior and I’m a great fighter and just wanting to move forward, to be honest."

The 34-year old Melendez, who came over to the UFC in 2013 as the Strikeforce champion riding a seven-fight winning streak, hasn’t had the same success thus far in the Octagon. Melendez is just 1-3 in his four fights in the UFC, though the fights have been against the cream of the crop. Two of Melendez’s losses came in title fights -- against Benson Henderson in his debut, and later against Anthony Pettis at UFC 166 -- and his latest was against the one-time Bellator champ, Alvarez.

In Barboza he will face a fighter on the rise, as the Brazilian is coming off of the biggest victory of his career against Pettis at UFC 197 (unanimous decision).

Melendez said he’s hungry to put the immediate past behind him and get back to the "warrior" that people knew him as before the suspension. He said he’s not overly concerned about his recent troubles leaving a stain on his legacy.

"You know, I try not to think about that too much," he said. "But I do have a bunch of loved ones around me that love me unconditionally, and I feel like fans the same way. That’s why I just want to redeem myself. I want to go out there and fight, and that’s why I’m excited to fight Barboza. People are telling me I’m going to get killed. I’m looking forward to show my heart, to show my durability, and to show my courage out there. I know I’m an older cat now, but that stuff lasts forever. I just want to go out there and show it to everybody."

With so many other fighters who’ve been flagged for banned substances providing excuses in the aftermath, Melendez was asked if it was difficult to just admit a mistake like his and move on.

"It’s not. Like I said man, I’m just bummed about the whole situation," he said. "Every fighter handles it their own way or they’ve got to say what they’ve got to say. I’m just more disappointed about the whole situation. I’m disappointed about that, but it’s not hard to say I made a mistake. I did, and I just want to move on from it."

Through his recent travails, Melendez said he enjoyed the downtime with his family. Though he’s had to face some difficult music with back-to-back losses and the failed test, he says he didn’t ever get to the point where he thought of hanging up the gloves seriously.

‘I would say that when I was training for fights and things were going kind of fast and I was going along, I was overwhelmed," he said. "And it wasn’t as enjoyable. Fighting is like a girlfriend. You know, you love her, you get pissed at her, you break up with her, you want her back. That’s how it is. But I love the sport."

Melendez said the martial arts are part of his life, and will continue to be regardless if he’s in the news or not.

"Fighting aside, fans aside, money aside, all that stuff aside, I’m a born warrior," he said. "I’ve done this forever, and I’ve done it for free. I’ve done it in a barn, two fights in a night for $500. It’s beyond the big stage. It’s just something I’ve done forever, and it’s something I’ll do until the day I die, maybe not on the big stage, but I’ll always do martial arts. And being a martial artist, I like to test my skills, I like to test the stuff I’ve been working on. And maybe I won’t always have a big stage, but it’s something that’s in me, and I love it. I love fighting."

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