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Hot and bothered: Gilbert Melendez Strikeforce interview exclusive with MMAmania.com

This Saturday night (Aug. 15), live on Showtime from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., Strikeforce interim lightweight champion Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez will look to erase one of the only two blemishes on his otherwise stellar professional mixed martial arts record when he puts his 155-pound belt on the line against Japanese wrestling sensation, Mitsuhiro Ishida.

After dropping the initial meeting with "Endless Fighter" on New Year's Eve 2007 and then coming up short in a five round decision last summer against ex-training partner Josh "The Punk" Thomson, Melendez recently decided it was time for a change in the training room.

Enter strength and conditioning expert Dave Nader.

"I've been advising Gil and doing some one-on-one cardio training sessions with him on the Airdyne," he said. "It's a great piece of equipment because it uses the arms and legs, allowing Gil to hit some incredibly high intensities -- higher than he could do on a treadmill or running outside.

The high intensity is important as you lead up to a fight because it puts a sharp edge on your cardio that brings you quickly to peak fitness. Doing these very hard intervals provides the stimulus to the energy systems fighters depend on, and the CardioFactor assists in making the adaptations to that stimulus. There's no better way than that to avoid gassing out in a fight."

"El Nino" raves about the results Nader's program has produced. And for a 27-year-old fighter whose already gone the distance five times in his career, including the championship decision with Thomson last year and another memorable five round war with UFC veteran Clay Guida three years ago, cardio is certainly an area of importance.

Earlier this afternoon the champ took the time out of his busy preparation schedule for this weekend's fight to talk with us about his new training regimen, the rematch with Ishida, Thomson, Fedor Emelianenko and so much more.

Check out the interview below:

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Tell us a little bit about what's been going on with your training and what you guys have been doing over there with Dave Nader and AdapTx.

Gilbert Melendez: Well Dave came around, he brought me a new product, the CardioFactor, which I've been taking for the last month and a half. It's been great. I'm really picky about my supplements. It's something I decided to try. He's brought that to the game and I feel like my lungs are open a little bit better. I've always had a good push, but now I feel like I can breath a little better and I can work a little harder. He's also brought me an Airdyne bike and he's done a couple sets with me on that and some cardio on that. I like it and I've actually incorporated some of my circuit training into it. I do different circuits with escaping from bottom to takedowns or whatever, then I do a minute on that Airdyne bike and it adds to it. He's brought some good stuff to the table that adds more cardio to it with supplements and with technique.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Is cardio something you've been focusing on more these days because you're fighting more championship five round fights and because maybe you felt like your cardio affected the outcome of your last fight with Josh Thomson?

Gilbert Melendez: Well, I feel like I'm actually known for having pretty good cardio. I just feel like I didn't have the best training camp for Josh Thomson. Even with a bad training camp, I still went five, five-minute rounds. I was a little tired and I was flat. Cardio is the most important thing. Everyone has good cardio, it's just who's going to do the work. Who's going to hit the Airdyne bike. Who's going to hit the treadmill. Who's going to run faster. Who's going to push harder. I mean, it's just that simple.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What were some of the factors that led to you being tired or flat in that Josh Thomson fight? You just didn't seem like you were the same fighter we're all used to seeing.

Gilbert Melendez: Yeah definitely, my training camp wasn't the best. I feel like I wasn't the same fighter for the last four fights or three fights prior to that. There was a period where I didn't fight for nine months and then I fought four fights in 10 months. It was my fourth fight. My motivation was low and my training camp wasn't that great. I mean, I did the best I could do and I pushed as hard as I could at that time, but leading up to it, the training camp could have been tougher, could have been harder and could have been done a little bit more intelligently. I could have pushed harder and worked more cardio, yeah. I agree on that and that's all there was to it, just a lack of motivation. And now there's a lot more motivation in training camp.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I know you guys were good friends at one point. Have you guys talked at all since the last time you fought? Are you still friends? What's the deal there?

Gilbert Melendez: We were never really great friends or best friends. We were very cordial with each other and I had a high respect for him. We talked and I would see him at events in San Francisco, but we were never really super homey-homey. But I feel like I still have the relationship I did before. It's not like I can be really good friends with someone who I'm competing with. It's just some people can't. Some people can high five and smile in their fights. I can't right now. As soon as we get this fight over with, then I'm alright with being friends. As soon as I finally beat him and we don't have to fight anymore, then we can become friends. I don't have too many friends in my weight class to be honest with you. But when we see each other, yeah, we're cordial and we talk and I have nothing but respect for him, but you just change with that friendship stuff. Some people could, it could play to advantage to his part or to my part, but I just don't, I only have one friend in my weight class and that's Nathan Diaz right now. I mean, I'll spar with someone every once in a while, but I can't maintain a relationship.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Tell us about the emotional roller coaster you've been on over the past year or so after having lost your belt, then winning the interim title, then for the second time having the rematch with Thomson canceled due to injury, and now having a chance to get revenge for your other loss against Mitsuhiro Ishida.

Gilbert Melendez: Yeah, you know, I'm a little upset. Not necessarily at Josh. But, I feel like right after my fight was over with Rodrigo Damm, it was like okay your next fight is Josh Thomson. And Josh Thomson was there in a cast still and had just got done with the surgery. I'm like, is he going to be okay, and they're like, yeah he's going to be fine. Sometimes, you know, us fighters, we're soldiers in that we're told what to do and we're pressured to fight sometimes. If they're like hey you're going to fight, that means you're going to fight. I'm a little bothered that he was not feeling too well or maybe not going to fight. I just wish he would have pulled out six weeks ago and said, hey man I'm not ready, instead of doing it a week and a half or two weeks out of my fight and just being like, I'm not ready or I'm not cleared, you know? I feel like that was a little unprofessional of the organization to let that happen, and of him. And all this time where I believe he's going to fight, they have Ishida as the backup knowing for a good four and a half, five weeks that he's going to fight me. He's there training hard for me in case Josh pulls out, which they're probably telling him it's 50-50. And I'm here training for Josh for two months and then a week and a half ago they tell me I'm fighting Ishida, and he's probably been thinking about me for the last five weeks. So that kind of bothers me. They could have handled it better. Fighting a guy and a guy getting injured and fighting his replacement? That's not a problem. But a guy saying maybe for three and a half weeks? That's kind of unprofessional to me. No maybes. You're going to fight injured or don't fight at all.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Are there any injuries for yourself? Are you going to be fighting injured?

Gilbert Melendez: Of course man, of course. If you're not injured, you're not training hard. You're never 100 percent, and yeah, I've had a lot of dings and bruises in this training camp. But like I said, I've trained hard for this. Nothing as severe as a break, but yeah there's a couple of dings that have happened here and there. As of now I feel great and by fight time I'll be ready to rock. I feel as good as I can.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): So they didn't mention at all to you that Ishida was a possibility? I can imagine that he was more than likely at the top of your list of guys you would have chosen to fight anyway.

Gilbert Melendez: Oh definitely, definitely a guy at the top of the list I wanted to fight, but definitely a guy you want to prepare for. He's not a brawler type of fighter, he's actually a strategic fighter, so there's a lot of things you want to focus on specifically. So yeah, I'd like to fight him on better circumstances, but I'm confident that I've trained hard on my wrestling, trained hard on my stand up. With this short notice I can tweak my strategy and pull it off, of course. Yeah he was on the top of the list, but no, the very first day I found out that Josh Thomson was out, they had Ishida as the opponent. Usually, when someone pulls out it takes about two or three days for someone to agree to fight. Obviously, he knew about it. The second they were like, hey Josh is out, they said right away, you're fighting Ishida. I said, okay, let's do it. I didn't hesitate. I accept that I'm fighting him and I'm going to put on a great show. I'm going to fight my heart out and I'm going to try to kick his butt.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Tell us a little bit about what happened the first time you guys fought and how he used a strong wrestling attack to negate your strengths. And also how you plan to deal with that this time around.

Gilbert Melendez: I felt like he fought a very intelligent fight. He drew me in. I came out there to try to kill him and knock his head off, and he drew me in. He had some beautiful shots, some fast takedowns, and I walked right into them. Maybe I thought I was going to be able to escape a little easier. I got to my feet pretty easy, but he was able to just kind of hug and leach on me behind me. I feel like his wrestling started to get more tired toward the end of the fight. He definitely won that first round and was able to hold on to me, but I don't think he really did any damage. He took me down maybe six times and held me down for a total of a minute and a half. He did great. But the second round came around and I felt like I put him on his back and was able to ground and pound him and hold him down for the whole round. I thought it was a close call. I thought maybe I squeaked it out, but I can see how a lot of people think I lost. It was a good fight and I think he did a great job and I think he's a great wrestler. I may have underestimated how fast he was and his wrestling skills.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You talked a little bit about being at a disadvantage not being able to prepare fully for Ishida. What have you done over the last week and a half, two weeks to try and close that gap?

Gilbert Melendez: Of course, I had to switch up my gameplan. I'm fighting a southpaw, coming from a conventional stand up fighter who's trying to stick and move. I'm fighting a wrestler who's trying to move, but draw me into a takedown -- and he's a short southpaw. So, you know, when you sprawl, you sprawl with a certain hip down and you expect to respond to a conventional fighter with a conventional stance a certain way. It's different with a person with their right foot forward than their left foot forward. So, just my sprawl and the different angles. Of course, the way I'm going to go in my stand up, the different combinations I'm going to use, what am I going to use for my attack. I mean, this is a guy I have to be patient with. I have to become a patient fighter. And a lot of times you hear the boos and you want to go just kill. That's usually my style. I like to brawl. I like to go in there and brawl it out. If you notice, the two guys that have beat me are circle, stick and move or circle, stick and wrestle. I think I've matured as a fighter and I have to fight just as aggressive, but a lot more patient. You don't have to be an animal in there, just be more relaxed in there.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What were the terms of your extension with Strikeforce? How long are you planning to be with the promotion?

Gilbert Melendez: I have three fights left on my contract with them. The Rodrigo Damm fight was my last fight and I extended three more fights with them, hoping to fight Josh and Ishida. And I'm glad I get to fight Ishida here. And I'm glad I get to fight on Showtime. I love the fact that I'm going to be on Showtime. I'm going to get exposure, which allows me to get more sponsorship and exposure throughout the nation, which I'm really happy with. It's a pretty good organization you know, and I think with three more fights, if I can pull off three wins in a row, I could have a big chip in negotiating.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I'm sure there were plenty of other suitors interested in your services and there were certainly plenty of rumors. Was there anyone specific coming after you?

Gilbert Melendez: No one specifically coming after me. Everyone showed interest. Of course, with the contract and everything, when you're still under contract, you're not really allowed to negotiate, but of course everyone showed interest. They said, hey man give me a call when you're ready and let me know. And that's all that really got discussed. Of course, Affliction was a great show, they were paying well. I think they were focusing more on heavyweights. But if there was a place to go it'd be the UFC. And to tell you the truth that's something I've always dreamed about being a part of, and you want to be a part of that because it seems like that's what gets the most respect in the nation. Of course I thought of that, and that's one of the big things I want to do. I want to go get exposure and prove myself to a lot of people. Scott Coker came up with Showtime and convinced me it's worth staying a couple more fights and I agree with him. I think he's a great promoter, a great guy, and most of the time I'm on the same page as him.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Is fighting in Japan something you're still interested in?

Gilbert Melendez: Yeah, now that we're teaming up with DREAM. I think that's a great thing that Strikeforce is doing, to have an alliance with DREAM. To be able to have some of those guys like Aoki and Hansen and maybe JZ come over here and fight us in Strikeforce. And I wouldn't mind going back to Japan and banging heads out there. But like I said man, being this time and the exposure out here with the sponsors and all that, it's a lot better fighting in the U.S. now.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): How do you feel you match up with some of those DREAM guys? The Aoki's and Hansen's of the world?

Gilbert Melendez: I feel like I've been there before and I've done great with those guys. I think that on any given day any of the top 15 lightweights in the world can be number one, and I feel like I'm up there in the top 15 right now. I guess I got to prove it, but yeah man, on any given day I can beat any of those guys. I really believe so. I feel like I match up well with some of them. I feel like I'm one of the most well rounded MMA lightweights. I'm not the best on my feet, but I can hang with anyone on my feet. I'm not the best wrestler, but I can hang wrestling with anyone. I'm not the best jiu jitsu, but I don't see too many people tapping me out. I train with some of the best jiu jitsu guys and some of the best wrestlers out there and I think my stand up has come a long way. I think I'm a complete mixed martial artist and I would give anyone hell.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You've been with Strikeforce for a while now. What do you think about the growth of the organization since you've been with them and also the potential moving forward?

Gilbert Melendez: It's grown rapidly in the last year. It bought out Pro Elite and got the Showtime deal. Signing Fedor, Jacare and making this alliance with DREAM. The sky's the limit, but Scott Coker is a professional and he's been patient with this his whole career. He's been in the business a long time. He's not just some Joe Shmo, hustling and investing all kinds of money, going big and going broke like a lot of people have done. I think he knows the game and the sky's the limit. He's on to something good, but who knows man. I don't know the numbers behind the purchase, but so far it looks like there might be hope for this organization.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): How do you think the Fedor signing will affect the exposure fighters like yourself will get fighting on Showtime and possibly CBS cards along side him?

Gilbert Melendez: I think it's great Fedor is a part of it. I'm a fan first. I wanted to see him fight Brock Lesnar. I wish they could have worked out the co-promotion stuff, but I think it's great for us. I fought on two cards with him on two New Year's Eve shows when I fought Kawajiri and I fought Ishida. He fought Mark Hunt and Hong Man Choi, and it was an honor to be on the same card with someone like Fedor. He just added extra energy to the crowd. And plus, yeah, you get great exposure if you tune in to watch Fedor. Just like Gina Carano and Cyborg. Everyone's mad about that. I'm not that mad about that at all. I think those girls are going to get me a lot of exposure. So, in that situation I think it's a great thing to have Fedor be a part of this organization. I think it's a big step and a big move. After Strikeforce lost Tito Ortiz, supposedly he was going to be a part of Strikeforce, and then he signed with the UFC. It was like oh what a bummer and then the next day you see Fedor signed with them and then they signed Jacare and then they have this alliance with DREAM. Just when you think things are done for them -- or things are bad -- that stuff happens.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You're good friends and training partners with Nick Diaz. Can you tell us a little bit about where his head is at after getting pulled from this card following the incident with the CSAC?

Gilbert Melendez: I guess he had a prior agreement with Armando Garcia. And he was like, hey man I got a cannabis card and okay, all I'm asking is for you to test clean after your fights, and ok no problem. Supposedly that was the agreement and that agreement was going to stick, but apparently they did a random test before. I haven't really talked to him. He's my buddy and everything and I train hard with him, but I stay out of his business. I couldn't really tell you how he feels or what the situation is. Obviously, he's fought two times this year. I'm pretty sure money's not an issue. He's putting on great shows and if anyone's hurt it's the fans. The California commission has put him in an awkward situation and he had to do what he had to do.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) is more difficult to get cleared for a fight than some of the other commissions?

Gilbert Melendez: I feel like they are a little bit of a difficult commission. They haven't given me any trouble. I have no problems with them. I guess I just feel like, I have no problem with them at all, I just feel like the situation here is, you know, the state of California lets you have a card if it's legalized. I don't feel like it's a performance enhancing drug. If you have a cannabis card it shouldn't be that big of a deal. The state of California recognizes it, I don't know why the athletic commission doesn't. That's my only issue with them I guess. I think they do everything else great. I just don't find that that's a big deal at all. I don't think the marijuana thing is a big deal at all. I really don't. So, I guess the commission is great, but that's the only problem with it.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Tell us a little bit more about your thoughts on the Carano vs. Cyborg main event and how you think it's going to play out.

Gilbert Melendez: I think it's cool man. I think it's great for the two girls. I think it's a good challenge for both of them to have to fulfill that spotlight right there and also to have to fight five, five minute rounds. And also to have to fight each other. I think it's going to be a great war, but I think Carano is going to pull it out. I think she has better stand up and I think she's just as strong as Cyborg. I know Cyborg looks the part, but I think Carano is just as strong and a little bit smarter on her feet. She's been in long fights before and I think the Muay Thai experience is going to pay off. Not to say that Cyborg isn't going to put up a battle, but I think Carano is going to be able to pull it off.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you want to make a prediction for your fight as well?

Gilbert Melendez: Definitely, man. I think Gilbert Melendez will win this fight and finish this fight in the fourth round.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Is there anybody you would like to thank or anything you would like to say to your fans before you get out of here?

Gilbert Melendez: First of all I want to thank all my loved ones and friends and people that support me all through California and all throughout the nation. Of course all my training partners, you guys all know who you are. And all my sponsors, Metal Mulisha, ApapTx Labs, Rockstar, FDM and Fairtex, and there's so many more, I'm sorry if I forget. Thank you everybody that has supported me.

James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Gilbert, thanks so much man and good luck on Saturday night.

Gilbert Melendez: Thank you.

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