Today at the UFC 136 Fan Expo, current Strikeforce Lightweight Champion spoke with media and of course, the question of whether or not mixed martial arts (MMA) fans would see "El Nino" inside the Octagon sooner rather than later came up.
Melendez treated the question and answer session much like he does his fights. He went full speed ahead and didn't hold anything back. He stated that he always feels like he has to prove himself in the sport. While teammates Jake Shields and Nick Diaz are being brought over from the Strikeforce cage to the Octagon, no official word on Melendez's exodus from the San Jose-based promotion has been made.
Dana White has said he wants "El Nino" to fight under the UFC banner but as of right now, he has a date with Jorge Masvidal on December 17 to defend his Strikeforce belt.
"A lot of other fighters and the media respect me but the common fans, they think that I haven't made it to the big leagues," Melendez said. "I've been working my butt off, putting on really good shows and exciting fights and not getting the recognition I think I deserve has been frustrating."
"But nobody here is bitter," the Strikeforce champ added with a smile.
More with Melendez including how he felt after his rematch with Tatsuya Kawajiri after the jump!
Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson, and Nick Diaz. All three men once wore Strikeforce gold but now have "UFC" on their four-ounce gloves. So why not Melendez? The lightweight has run through every lightweight put in front of him the past two years.
He said that since the Strikeforce buy-out, he feels he's gotten more of a PR push. "My name is getting out there but that's inevitable, I'm going to be number one. One way or another, I'm gonna be number one," he added.
But despite the recent talk of having "El Nino" drop his Strikeforce obligations to become the latest big name to sign with the UFC, nothing is concrete.
"The boss Dana White is saying stuff like, 'We're going to yank him over' and you want to get excited but you have to come back to reality and remember what's been inked and what hasn't. My fight with Masvidal is inked. Until I'm told different, that's where my focus is," Melendez told reporters.
The fight with Masvidal has been pretty much official since the American Top Team product defeated K.J Noons back in June on the Strikeforce: "Overeem vs. Werdum" card in Dallas. Unofficially, though, Melendez has been wanting to step inside the cage with Masvidal for some time now.
"He has talked trash on me in the past so I knew I was going to fight this guy eventually," the champion explained. "I thought he was going to beat K.J. [Noons] so I was visualizing a fight with Masvidal even before that."
Dana White has already made it clear that he wants Melendez inside the Octagon. As the number three 155-pounder in the world according to SBNation, it would only make sense that he plies his wares in the promotion that holds most of the top talent. When asked if he would accept an immediate title shot in the UFC, Melendez said, "I don't think a warm-up fight is necessary. I'm a veteran in this sport, I've been fighting for a long, long time. I'm ready to be number one. I'm ready to take over and start representing the sport.
"I'm not a new kid that needs to get his feet wet. Yeah, this is the biggest stage in the world and that can make someone nervous or you can take all those vibes and emotions and people yelling and use it. That's what I do, that's what I've always done."
He did just that about as perfectly as possible the last time he fought. He was inside the cage with Tatsuya Kawajiri who he held an oft-debated decision win over from back in 2006. The second time they faced off, "Crusher" ended up getting crushed.
He ran through Kawajiri, ending the fight with a series of brutal elbows which had just become legal inside the Strikeforce cage. "That felt really good. I just ready to fight when I stepped inside the cage. Not being dumb but just turning it on as soon as the fight starts. It felt great to throw some elbows. I loved it," he said.
Of course, this entire weekend's festivities have been used to help promote tonight's (Oct. 8) event headlined by thelightweight title rematch between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Putting on his predictions cap, Melendez said he has been visualizing a bout with Frankie more. Why?
"Because I think he's going to win," he went on to explain. "I think about a fight with Maynard but I lean towards Frankie. He'll win on the scorecards but Maynard will win the feet. Maynard will hit the big punches and takedowns but Edgar will jump in, land some quick punches, and jump out. That's how I think he'll win."
After nearly a decade in the game, it seems the future is brighter than ever for "El Nino." But despite feeling overlooked at times, Melendez insists there are no hard feelings.
"There's no chip on my shoulder but I don't need a warm-up. I want to come over, of course. Masvidal has earned the shot to face but I've earned 10 times what he has. I've been here longer than Edgar, Maynard, Melvin Guillard, Clay Guida. I've been here longer than all of those guys. I would take an immediate title. I want to fight the top guy."