UFC lightweight Gilbert Melendez has never won a fight inside the Octagon and has limited experience against Top 10 talent. However, “El Nino” will still be fighting for the title in his promotional debut this Saturday night at UFC on FOX 7. Though the opportunity might seem odd to fans unfamiliar with Melendez’s overall history, longtime followers understand the 31-year old has beaten his share of stiff opposition over more than a decade in the sport and looked exceptional far more often than not.
Likewise, Melendez feels the work he’s put in during a career highlighted by his run in Strikeforce makes him a worthwhile contender.
“I paid my dues and I think that’s why they’re giving me this title-shot,” said Melendez on the recent UFC on FOX: Road to the Octagon feature, adding that he’d always approached his career with designs on a UFC championship. “I really believed it was inevitable I was gonna come to this point. I’ve always had a goal of being the #1 fighter in the world or even finding out if I am. This is the final step to me finding out.”
In addition to his bout with Benson Henderson marking the rare chance to fulfill a dream, Melendez is also excited about being part of an event helping introduce MMA to the uninformed masses. For obvious reasons, FOX cards draw huge number of viewers in comparison to PPV shows or events on Fuel TV/FX.
“I used to fight in Japan back in the day and it was a family event. People understood it,” explained Melendez. “I think our culture kind of needs that a little bit – two guys fighting and being able to shake hands afterwards with respect. Not two guys trying to fight each other and being jerks.”
The 21-2 Melendez is currently on a seven-fight winning streak but hasn’t fought since last May. Comparably, Henderson holds an overall record of 18-2 and is coming off a one-sided outpointing of Melendez’s friend/teammate, Nate Diaz.
The complete UFC on FOX 7: Road to the Octagon special can be seen below:
PHOTO CREDIT – MMAWEEKLY/UFC