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Gilbert Melendez fires back against claims that he’s past his prime heading into UFC 239

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Gilbert Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez for his first UFC win at UFC 166.
Gilbert Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez for his first UFC win at UFC 166.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Gilbert Melendez has spent the better part of the past 17 years facing the best fighters in the world including title reigns in the WEC and Strikeforce as well as two championship bouts in the UFC.

Unfortunately, Melendez has fallen on harder times lately as he looks at his resume and four losses in a row are staring back at him.

His last fight came in 2017 when he made his featherweight debut and took home a ‘Fight of the Night’ award for a three round battle against Jeremy Stephens. Afterwards, Melendez had to take some time off due to the damage he endured but also due to the stress he was facing after fighting started become less and less fun for him.

“Since the last time you’ve seen me, it was a lot of resting, a lot of rethinking and some time away from the mats focused on my wife, focused on my team, helping others out and putting my training second,” Melendez said when speaking with MMA Fighting. “That was the first six months or maybe seven months after my fight. I was even contemplating not doing it anymore.

“I wasn’t enjoying the ride as much and that’s what that six or seven months was, just taking a step back from it and investing my time in my team and kind of figuring out what I wanted to do. I’ll be honest with you, I was getting tired of the sport and just kind of going through the motions and it felt like a job.”

As worn out was he felt at the time, Melendez says taking a step back really was the key to rejuvenating his spirit for the sport he has loved for so long.

As the Joni Mitchell lyrics say — you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone — and that’s exactly what happened to Melendez.

“Time went by and the mats keep calling you. You start training and you get hungry to do it again,” Melendez said. “The last year has been training and getting ready to get back in there. My mindset is enjoying the ride. Realizing I have an opportunity to go out there and challenge myself. I’m just enjoying the ride this time. That’s been the difference.”

Now that he’s reinvigorated, Melendez is more than excited to get back to work as he faces Arnold Allen at UFC 239 this weekend.

It will be his second appearance at 145 pounds and Melendez is anxious to put on the kind of performances that earned him a reputation as one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.

“My desire is here,” Melendez said. “That’s my mindset now. I’m ready to endure some punishment, I’m ready to come forward, I’m ready to press some action. I’m ready to get in there and mix it up. I’m ready to get in there and fight.”

If Melendez has a point to prove in his first fight back in nearly two years, it’s that you can’t judge a book by its cover or in his case just look at four losses in a row and believe he’s somehow past his prime.

Obviously, Melendez desperately wants to get a win to stop the bleeding from the longest losing streak of his career but he refutes any claims that he’s not capable of hanging with the best fighters in the world any longer.

“I do feel like everybody I’ve competed against, I competed against them at a high level. I had plenty of good moments. If we ran some of those fights back, I think it would be different,” Melendez said. “I’m not getting knocked out over and over. In fact, I’ve never been knocked out in a mixed martial arts fights. I’ve only been submitted once.

“I do feel like I own the center of the Octagon. I’m one of the best fighters in the pocket. If I can get someone to fight me, it’s going to be great for me and bad for them.”

Thanks to the time off that allowed him to reignite his passion for the sport, Melendez isn’t going to talk about taking another run at the title or making bold proclamations for the sake of a few headlines.

Instead, Melendez wants to get back to the business of knocking heads while also showing that this old dog can still learn a few new tricks.

“I’m looking forward to coming through and being the old Gilbert,” Melendez said. “But I also plan on being a tactical and smart fighter, who’s in shape and able to execute pressure.”