Though he’s still recovering from the nagging shoulder injury that pulled him off of Strikeforce’s possibly-final event (and led to the straight-up cancellation of their previous card) Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez knows exactly what he wants to do when he’s healthy again — roll the dice against UFC champ Ben Henderson. The Cesar Gracie product, who just saw his homeboy Nate Diaz get run over by Bendo last weekend, pleaded his case in a new interview with BleacherReport, running down all the reasons why he should get the next crack at Henderson:
“I think a champion versus champion fight makes absolute sense right now. I think we already know how things are going to work out between Benson Henderson and a lot of other lightweight fighters in the UFC, but I’m that mystery fighter. No one really knows how I’m going to matchup with anyone. I have been around for a long time and have been the top lightweight in the world before Benson or any of these other guys.
I think I have a lot of answers for his style. Sometimes he fights a wrestler like Guida who doesn’t have great hands, and sometimes he fights strikers who can’t really wrestle. Look at his fights against “Cowboy” Cerrone back in the day, or even Pettis. I have that wrestling pedigree where he ain’t taking me down, and I’ll be stuffing some shots. I’m not backing away, and I’ll be dropping some bombs. I’m not an easy guy to stand with. I have a lot of power, and I’m not running away from kicks. I don’t run away from anything. I hold my ground. I’ll be coming for him, and anything he dishes out I’ll be answering back twice as hard.”
Later in the interview, Melendez discussed how the reports of Strikeforce’s impending demise — and the coronation of Ronda Rousey as the UFC’s first women’s champion — actually got him excited about the future again, since Melendez could finally get the opportunity to fight some of the best lightweights in the world:
“The fire has been lit, and it was lit a few weeks back. When you start feeling the vibes and hearing the word get out about the things happening with Ronda Rousey, you start getting excited. I’m not saying anything is done in that regard, but it doesn’t stop me from getting fired up about the possibility. You get excited you are going to face big names and the possibility of big matchups. It will give me the chance to really prove something to people in this sport. That fire has definitely been lit, and it would be a real bummer if things didn’t work out like I hope they do.
These things play a lot on your motivation, and if everything works out, then it will be great…I’m seeing the difference in everything I do. I’m running harder because I know it’s there. It’s true I wasn’t super motivated for my past few fights, and it showed out there in the cage. I wasn’t happy with my performance, but I was happy I got the ‘W.’ When things are handled a certain way, you get a certain performance. When the opportunity is right—you’ll get the best I have to give…
I should be medically cleared in the middle of next week. After I see the doctor, that should give me that five- to six-week marker. I have been doing a lot of drilling, technique and running. You can’t help but get out there and do things. I’ve been staying busy, working on a lot of my strategy and tactics. I’ll pick it up a lot more once I get cleared. But you could definitely say I’m prepped.
The timing is right for this fight. I’ll be healthy by the time he would be ready to go, and it just makes sense. That is the fight I want. I really want to test myself, and I really want to find out if I’m the best. If Henderson really wants to find out, this is the fight for him to really prove he is the No. 1 lightweight fighter in the world. I say let’s do it.”
Well, are you convinced? It seems likely that Anthony Pettis — who previously humiliated Henderson in December 2010 — would be the front-runner for Bendo’s next challenger if Pettis can defeat Donald Cerrone in January. But a UFC vs. Strikeforce unification bout could be just as interesting. Should Melendez get an immediate title shot in the UFC, or should he have to prove himself first by beating another contender?