Gilbert Melendez (21-2) believes the key to defeating Benson Henderson (18-2) for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight title at UFC on FOX 7 is fairly simple: edge out "Smooth" in the "mental game."
In the main event of the UFC's seventh network television event on FOX, scheduled for April 20, 2013, from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., Melendez, the last Strikeforce lightweight champion in the organization's history, will make his UFC debut against Henderson will the belt on the line.
The 30-year-old plans to make a statement against Henderson and prove he is the No. 1 lightweight fighter on the planet. To do that, Melendez believes he needs to show to gain the physiological advantage over Henderson.
"He's a great wrestler, a great kicker, he's got great tactics, but most of all I have to be super focused," Melendez said on Friday's edition of "Inside MMA" on AXS TV. "I have to be mentally strong and I have to beat him at that mental game."
Easier said than done.
Nate Diaz, the last man to share the Octagon with Henderson who also happens to be a training partner of Melendez, is one of the most notorious fighters in mixed martial arts (MMA) when it comes to mental warfare in and out of the cage. Henderson was prepared, and even a mid-fight middle finger had no effect on Henderson, who battered Diaz for five consecutive rounds at UFC on FOX 5 last December.
Melendez enters the UFC with win seven consecutive victories, but has already been pegged as an underdog by most to the UFC champ. However, that only adds to the fire of "El Nino."
The Team Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu product has been eager to enter the Octagon for years. Now that the time has come, he doesn't feel the way he thought he would; however, he is supremely motivated and believes all the feelings of excitement for being in the UFC will hit him once his debut has passed and the UFC belt is around his waist.
"...Just knowing and having a title fight in the UFC, I'm motivated as heck. I want to run, I want to spar, I want to train," Melendez said. "Yeah, it's unbelievable that it's finally happening. I though I would be more excited when they said, ‘You're fighting for the UFC title.' More happy, but in fact I'm just a little different feeling. I'll be more happy when I win the title."
UFC on FOX 7: "Henderson vs. Melendez" goes down April 20, 2013, from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. Along with Henderson vs. Melendez headliner, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion Daniel Cormier makes his UFC debut against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir.