Gilbert Melendez is a really nice guy. Too nice. It kind of freaks me out how nice of a guy he is. It's crazy how he can turn from 'chill Gilbert' into a ferocious beast with a taste for the blood of 155 pound males when he steps into the cage, but that's his job, and he does it well. For years, Gilbert has been touted as one of, if not the top lightweight in the sport while spending the last half decade in Strikeforce. Now, with rumors of Strikeforce's possible demise in January, we felt it was wise to speak to Gil about the future of the organization he's called home for years and of course, his teammate Nate Diaz's UFC title fight this weekend on FOX.
So how are things going, Gil?
Things are great. Same old stuff, gym, training, family.
So you could say things are going better for you than the Raiders?
Ha, they could be better but I'm still having fun and out there supporting em.
You're located in San Francisco, is that difficult being a Raiders fan with the Niners doing so well?
I wouldn't say they are doing so well. They are good. They just lost to the Rams... I support all the California teams. There are a lot of Raider haters, that's cool, I'm not one to hate.
Do you have a fantasy football team?
I don't have one, I haven't gone there yet. Maybe next year. I just don't have enough time.
Next year we'll get you in the MiddleEasy fantasy league for sure.
I might be up for it, I don't know it seems strange spending all this time cheering for your team then you cheer for a player on another team, seems like a conflict of interest but it seems fun. Maybe I'll do it.
We were watching the UFC on FOX road to the Octagon and you got a lot of camera time. Is that the first time you've been so prominently featured on a UFC show? We think it may be?
Well I was around with Jake when he fought GSP. I've been around, but yeah it was one of the only times.
So should we read between the lines with maybe you and the UFC...
You can read all you want I'll be reading a contract that's signed and then I'll be happy about it. Until then I'm not going to read into it to be honest.
Do you think Strikeforce still has life in it or do you think it will be gone after the January fight?
It's not really about what I think or what I desire. It is what it is. I try to not get to excited or otherwise. Until something happens I'm a Strikeforce fighter. Until that point I'll just keep on assuming that's the case. I'm not interested in involving myself in the politics.
Are you disappointed at all? Strikeforce has been around forever and based out of your area. Are you sad that it may go away?
Yeah if it happens you know, it will be a sad thing I've been a part of that organization for a long time I helped start it and by that I mean I was one of the early fighters in there. But yeah man, I had a lot of good times there and if it's the end of the road it will be heartbreaking and sad. But when it comes down to it I'm an independent contractor and it's not about the organization. I'm just out to fight the best fighters possible whether that be in Strikeforce or Dream or UFC or Bellator. Whatever organization it is, I just want to get up and motivated and beat some names.
Looking back, what are some of your favorite times in Strikeforce?
We can look back and play some Boyz II Men it's so hard to say goodbye over some highlights and I would love it. Fighting Aoki was huge for me, the second fight with Josh was big for me out there in San Jose and CBS against Aoki.
Don't forget about Kawijiri. That was an amazing performance.
Oh yeah, Kawijiri was huge. Thanks I appreciate that. It was nice to get in and out of there, I appreciate you saying that.
Is your goal the UFC? What if ONE FC came to you with a boatload of money and said 'hey come be the face of our organization. Is it about the money totally for you? Or is it only fighting the top guys?
Always a compromise. You want to meet in the middle. A lot of stuff goes into this; branding yourself and being marketable outside the cage as well. There's a lot in consideration besides the dolalr amount, but a nice dollar amount is good too. Right now I want to fight the top talent and get a big, big name just to prove and find out what's up. I want to fight big names.
Do you still consider yourself the number one lightweight in the world?
I guess I used to be more pumped about that a while ago. There are a lot of tough guys. I guess me and Nate are tied for number one right now, but that goes without saying right? Yeah, but I really believe I could beat any lightweight out there. I could beat Ben Henderson I could beat Cowboy, I feel I could beat anyone out there, I really do. It's stacked and it's not an easy task but I would love to test myself to see if I am deserving of that high ranking.
Hypothetical question time. What are two great fights for you in any organization. Don't say you'll fight anyone or for a title.
Oh man, I would say Gray Maynard. He's a tough fight and that's a guy who has crossed my mind a lot and of course there is Eddie Alvarez out there and I think when he's on he's one of the best lightweights out there. The guy in ONE FC I already beat.. But those two names, Gray and Eddie. Cowboy has impressed me a lot too. I think he will beat Pettis.
I would love to see you and Eddie in the UFC after the years of talk and hype.
Is Eddie in the UFC yet?
No, but there are talks. No confirmation. You said once it would be really satisfying if Nate won the lightweight belt and you two were like a two headed monster of the lightweight division.
And I genuinely couldn't say that about anyone else. It may sound like bullshit but to be honest, with this guy I can genuinely say that he's a solid dude and I would be more than happy if he had the title. It may not sound like Diaz to most but it's true. Nate's a real solid guy.
How long have you and Nate known each other?
Since I started, so since he was about 15, 16 years old and now he's 27 so we've known each other for a long time. Since day 1 in the Cesar Gracie fight team together. We had Jake and Nick the blue belts in there battling and they brought their little bros, because I consider myself Jake's little bro, and they were just so serious. Nate and I were laughing and having a good time checking em out, now we went for a ride and we are friggin' here. It's hilarious.
What's the difference of your team and all the other teams out there.
No egos, no one really gets mad. There will never be a sparring session where a guy gets mad and throws his headgear. Yada yada yada it never happens. We started together from the beginning and we were basically all white belts starting together. We aren't some team of champions coming together, we were white belts together and became champions. We stand for loyalty and family and dedication. All that good stuff. We are more of a family than a team.
Do you have an open door policy at El Nino training center?
If you are a brown or black belt at Cesar's or Nick and Nate's we'll let you in. But if you're from the outside and you want to spar or do some training it's not as easy to walk on the team. I try not to train with too many 155'rs because it may be a conflict of interest. Same with welterweights, I try not bring too many in because of the weight class of my friends, but we have a really good squad already. I don't really reach out. If new people are in the gym it's because the guys brought them in. I get my ass kicked enough by Jake and Nate and Nick and the youngsters out here. That's enough. If you want to stop by and pay the drop in fee, that's cool too.
You're a real nice guy, do you find it difficult to keep your distance from the other guys in your division?
No, I'm cordial. I don't have to mad dog them. I just shake the hand and move on. I can't have a soft spot for my opponent so I don't want to build a relationship. Small talk and leave it at that. Plenty of other fighters I love to talk to. Lots of cool people. Some lightweights I will chill with. But it's hard to beat someone up that you have a personal relationship with.
Speaking of divisions, what are your thoughts on you going down to 145? What would that scenario be like? Only if Nate was champion and you, perhaps, went to the UFC or would you switch divisions for a challenge?
The challenge of cutting to 45? Nah just kidding. If that were the case and we were both in the UFC and they offered me a title shot and Nate was the champion I would probably respond with 'I will take the shot at 145' is what would happen.
How difficult would that cut be for you?
It would be difficult, it'd be difficult.
Would that hurt your performance?
I haven't cut to 45 in a while, I can see it hampering it, especially the last few weeks of training camp. I make 155 pretty easy. I'm a bigger dude but I don't have to cut to make it into cutting range, I'm about 15-20 pounds over right now, fat, not ripped. It would be difficult, but I could do it.
Nate has said his raw and vegan diet has helped him be successful at 155 this time around. What is your diet like?
I'm on the Mexican food diet. Nah, I try to eat healthy and I'm lucky that my girls is really considerate and she picks Nick and Nate's brains when we're out there. Hits them up. We cook good and we are pretty gluten free and she makes me my salads. But I eat lots of rice, beans, fish and chicken... But after a fight if I see a pizza I will probably go tear it up.
Is marijuana a performance enhancing drug?
No, I don't think so. No.
Do you think it should be banned by athletic commissions?
Up to the commission, they make the rules. There are a lot of things you can argue about but if it's legal in your state maybe it should be alright, and if you have a doctor's prescription they should be OK with it. But again, I don't really get into the politics.
How's the shoulder.
Much better, doing great. I wanted to fight in January but there's no way I would be ready for a training camp and I'm starting to feel it. I can get on the mat and drill but I have to be really careful right now.
What do you say to the internet trolls that say Gilbert and Luke and some Strikeforce guys are faking injuries to get the UFC contract?
Uh, to the keyboard warriors I say nothing... I really don't care.
What's a realistic time frame for you returning to the cage?
I would say, um, I think I'm cleared from my doctor in another 7-10 days, so after full on training maybe March or end of February I could be ready for a fight.
Stylistically, how do you think this fight between Nate and Ben Henderson is going to go down.
I think it's going to be great. Ben Henderson is tough, he's gonna stick and move and land some kicks but if he gets close he's going to have to bang it out and when that happens it's all Nate. Nate will have the better range, eyes open and has a better chin. So when Nate gets in range and they get in that scuffle I think Ben will run again or he's gonna have to shoot and wrestle. I think that we're going to see a lot more wrestling than people think. So he will probably shoot and it will be exciting but I think around the 3rd or 4th round Nate's tenaciousness and skill will be too much for Benson. Ben has fought a lot of good matches but this is a real fight right here. That's going to make the difference.
The Cesar Gracie camp has been vocal about not getting decisions. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, it's tough sometimes because Nate like to work off his back sometimes and work the submission. He can work and be winning from positions that the officials just don't understand. There have been fights Nate lost that I think he's won. Some officials look at these guys hugging Nate and trying to stall where the officials think that's control, when it's not. It's stalling. There's a lot of things these judges don't recognize with that style of fighting. Sometimes it's hard to get in their favor. I think if he wins and it goes the distance I think they'll do the right thing and give it to him.
Thanks for your time, Gil.
Nothing but love for MiddleEasy. Thanks for doing it right, boys.