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Bellator 201’s Keri Melendez loves being a Strawweight, but willing to move up for title shot

Keri Melendez interview

Bellator 201: “Macfarlane vs. Lara” takes place at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., this Friday night (June 29, 2018), featuring undefeated women’s Flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (7-0) making her first defense of the world title against Alejandra Lara (7-1) in the main event of the evening.

The ladies are shining in general on this Paramount Network-televised event, as four fights throughout the card put women front and center. In fact, one of the “Prelims” undercard fights sees respected Muay Thai and kickboxing veteran Keri Anne Melendez take only her second professional mixed martial arts (MMA) bout against promotional newcomer Tiani Valle. That first fight was certainly impressive, though, as Melendez needed only 47 seconds to crush her opposition, Sheila Padilla, winning the fight via technical knockout thanks to the precision and power of her striking technique. recently chatted with Melendez about taking her second fight outside of kickboxing this weekend and how she originally planned to be fighting a lot sooner this year.

“I was working through my injury and initially I really wanted to be on the May 12 Bellator card. They had me set up to do that May 12 card and my knee injury was lingering. I had to call them and let them know, ‘You know what? I can’t confirm this May 12 card and I need to push it back. I would like to push it back for the next card as soon as possible.’ So they were really accommodating and they said, ‘You know we can put you on the next card, but we’re going to put you on the ‘Prelims.’’ I said, ‘That’s fine, I just want to be active and get going, and I’d love to be on the same card as the girl main event.’”

To backtrack a little bit, Melendez was originally scheduled to face Sadee Williams at Bellator 180 one year ago, but was forced to withdraw because of an injury. I asked Melendez to explain the injury and take us through the delay in making her MMA return.

“I was about six weeks in for my training camp and I had four weeks left, and I ended up just tearing my ACL doing some wrestling, and then I had to get surgery. I decided to get it right away so I could get back. That’s what I’ve been doing, but pretty much (they said) I’d be out for a year. At the end of January I was able to box, so I was super stoked and thought I’d be able to come back sooner, but it’s been grueling to get back to par for where I wanted to be.”

Very few people can be up to par on a bad knee, so taking extra time to get ready is understandable. At least being able to spar early gave Melendez confidence her already-excellent striking has improved.

“I believe so. It gave my body time to rest and it made me hungrier than ever to get back to doing what I love to do. It’s my turn in this Melendez family to get going, so I definitely feel better than ever.”

And thanks the mental toughness of her husband, Gilbert Melendez, Keri has all the support she needs to come back stronger than ever in 2018.

“We decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to fight first, so he agreed that he’ll fight second, so he’s just being my head coach in MMA and helping out in the household, helping out with our business, and we’re team-working this whole thing. He’s doing well and he plans to fight after me.”

Now that she is ready, Melendez has been studying anything on Valle she can find. That’s easier said than done when your opponent appears to be 1-0 as a pro.

“I’ve done some online research and she seems to be a great boxer. She’s a striker and her first pro MMA fight she TKO’d her opponent, I believe by some knees. She’s predominantly a striker and I’m excited to go out there and battle against a striker. She does have an amateur record of 8-2 or 8-4, I don’t know, there’s not too much (out there) about her, but I’ve seen some video and to me her strength is her boxing and that excites me.”

Melendez has more info on Valle than most MMA resources online, which is good news for her having a strong performance, but I wondered how she felt about a potential “boxing vs. kickboxing”-style fight.

“Well, I like that! I believe that Muay Thai there’s just ... and I think she’s actually a good striker all around I just think her strength is boxing, but I think Muay Thai fighters use all the weapons — use their legs, use their elbows. I’m expecting everything from her. I think her strength is her boxing, but I’m just expecting a well-rounded fighter.”

Even though this is only the second time she’s taken a Bellator fight under MMA rules, Keri is happy with her progression and understands the timetable she set for herself had to change.

“So far so good! My (first) fight went well, but having an injury is just not fun at all. It definitely set me back, and I didn’t have that in my plan. I didn’t have that in my little three-year plan I had going on, and it definitely deterred some of my goals. But, now we’re here, and it’s a year later, and I’m ready to just get back going and staying active.”

Last but not least, Keri teased that if the promotion doesn’t eventually creat a 115-pound title, she might just have to go up and challenge somebody at 125 pounds.

“I’m fighting at 115 and Bellator is awesome by allowing me to do that (but) I know they’re focusing on the 125 division, so I would have to move up if I want to try to fight for the title. I’m just going to see where it takes me and still fight at 115 as long as they allow it, and if I need to move up then I might have to try that.”

Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 201: “Macfarlane vs. Lara” resides here at all week long.

To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.

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