Two-time STRIKEFORCE World Lightweight Champion (155 pounds), Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (18-2), has signed a new, multi-year agreement with the San Jose, Calif. based world championship Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion.
“STRIKEFORCE is my home, they’ve always been like family to me and I’m looking forward to continuing my career with them,” said the talented, exciting, 5-foot-9, 28-year-old protégé of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master Cesar Gracie and Muay Thai legend Jongsanan Fairtex. “There are a lot of great fights out there for me – lots of challenges. I can’t wait to get back into the cage, do my thing and show the world that I’m still at the top of my game.’’
Melendez is seen in most MMA circles as a Top 5 Lightweight, with most placing the Cesar Gracie product only behind the UFC tandem of Frank Edgar and Gray Maynard. Melendez debuted in Oct. 18, 2002, and roared out to a 13-0 record while competing in the WEC, Shooto and Pride Fighting Championhips Organizations. Notable victories for Melendez include Shinya Aoki, Josh Thomson, Clay Guida and Tatsuya Kawajiri. Melendez captured the STRIKEFORCE interim lightweight belt with a second-round knockout (punches) over Rodrigo Damm on April 11, 2009, in San Jose.
“I’m healthy again and excited about fighting again real soon,’’ Melendez said. “It doesn’t matter who I fight. I just want to get back in there and rip.’’
Many fans would identify Vladimir Matyushenko as a staple in the sport of mixed martial arts. The forty-year-old Belarusian has been in the sport for over a decade and fought some of the most notable fighters it can offer. But make no mistake, Matyushenko claims he is far from done and is eyeing his next bout. Speaking with MMAFA.tv from his ‘VMAT’ gym in El Segundo, Matyushenko shared his plans.
“Nothing is official and I would like to fight before Summer, but I want to fight the winner of Tito Ortiz vs. Antonio Rogerio Noguiera. It is a common sense fight for me. Both of those losses still bug me. It would be a way to redeem myself and it would be a great fight for Tito or Noguiera.”
It would appear that redemption is big motivator for Matyushenko, who lost at the hands of up-and-comer Jon Jones 6 months ago and went on score a stoppage win over Alexandre Ferreira only three months later. The stoppage win would be the first for Matyushenko in five years.
“I didn’t get hurt in the Jones fight. Well, my ego got hurt I guess [laughs]. But that was good for me, and I was healthy enough that when the UFC called me up shortly after I immediately took the fight against Ferreira. I never like walking around with a loss on my shoulders.”
Being a veteran of the sport, Matyushenko has seen his fair share of paradigm shifts. Yet Matyushenko claims the rise of younger fighters throughout the years wouldn’t have been possible without the groundwork laid down by him and his contemporaries.
“There are plenty of new guys coming up like Bader and Jones and they deserve a chance at the spotlight. But older guys like Randy Couture and I have proven that we’ve still got it. The new guys, like Jon Jones, have learned from us. I think Jones saw so much of my tape and what I do to people and he did it to me.”
With UFC 126 taking place tomorrow, Matyushenko offered his prediction for the main event:
“Anderson against Vitor is a very interesting fight. It depends on what state of mind the fighters are in. Lately, Vitor Belfort has been very good and has had some exciting wins. Anderson Silva is looking kind of lazy. Maybe he has burned out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Belfort takes it.”
Matyushenko also offered a prediction for a light heavyweight tilt between Jon Jones and Ryan Bader.
“I think Jon Jones will take him. I think he’s going to play the same game he always has. He’s going to be explosive, unpredictable… He is unpredictable for the guys he faces but he knows what he’s doing. I’d like to learn his game a little bit. I know he’s watching a lot of tape on other fighters and studies them. I’ll put my money on Jon Jones.”
When it came to the co-main event between Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin, Matyushenko insisted it was in his best interest to keep mum.
“No comment there. For you media guys it is easy to make predictions whenever you want because you don’t have to fight them after! I don’t want to look like I’m saying bad things about them, ‘You’re this and you’re that,’ then have them trying to beat me up!”
DM: How did you get started in MMA? Did you start off as a fan or did you transition from wrestling, BJJ, or something else?
MK: I wanted to get back into martial arts after taking some time off while in college. There was an ATT right near my house that was opening up and I decided to start training. I got hooked and became interested in competing. When I was little I trained in Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu and was always a martial arts fan.
DM: Why MMA? What about this sport makes it appealing for you to be an athlete in?
MK: It’s so challenging mentally and physically and that’s what’s appealing to me. I also love the atmosphere at the gym. Lots of cool people training, working hard and having a good time.
DM: What did you do (for work) before you started training in MMA?
MK: I am still working in TV post production. That’s what I went to school for and I’ve been working ever since I graduated.
DM: What do you feel is your biggest challenge in being a female in a predominantly male sport? Finding training partners? Finding competition? Getting exposure?
MK: No I think the exposure is actually easier being a girl. Most MMA fans really embrace it. It is challenging to find other women who train…so yes I’d say finding sparring partners. However, rolling and sparring with the guys really prepares you well. It gives me confidence on fight night that I’ve been in some wars at the gym with the guys. So the fight isn’t going to be as hard as training.
DM: With more and more legitimate up-and-coming female mixed martial artists like yourself, how do you set yourself apart from them?
MK: There are plenty of serious women pro fighters out there who train and love the sport as much as I do. I like to set myself apart by always putting on an exciting show. The fans want to see hard hits, kicks, cool bjj transitions, submissions, knock outs and knock downs and that’s my goal when I get in there.
DM: You’re with American Top Team; who do you train with? Are there other females in your camp or do you train with the guys to keep a competitive edge on your opponents?
MK: When I trained in ATT in Florida I trained with Marcos Da Matta, Wesley Brandon, Jessica Aguilar and the rest of the guys there. Here at ATT CT there aren’t any other female MMA fighters so I stick with the guys. There are a bunch of guys my size who push me hard in practice so it’s great having them as training partners.
DM: Your professional record is at 2-0. How many amateur bouts have you had? Where did they take place? In the US, elsewhere?
MK: I had no amateur MMA experience going into the fight with Kim. I did however, have 4 amateur kickboxing fights. I was 4-0 and won 2 amateur titles. They mostly took place in Florida and one was in NY.
DM: Which of the two pro fights was more gratifying for you? Stoppage due to submission over Kim Couture or going the distance in the Caldwell fight?
MK: Both fights were really gratifying for me. The Kim fight was so exciting because I was able to finish her early and got to experience of being in the cage for the first time. The fight with Marissa was a war and was so much fun. I got to showcase a lot more of my skills in that fight so I was happy with it. At the same time I learned a lot about where I’m at and what I need to focus on improving.
DM: What is your favorite way to finish a fight? Anyway you can or do you have a preferred method?
MK: I love the stand up game a tiny bit more than the ground so if I had to choose I’d say KO by punches or a kick.
DM: How would you best describe yourself when you’re in the cage?
MK: I’m pretty calm in the cage. I like to be in there and compete and put on a show for the fans. I think MMA is a beautiful art. So when I’m in there I am just focused on the openings I see and my next combo. Since I’m still learning so much it’s a high for me to throw new combinations and just listen to my coaches and follow directions.
DM: What are you interests when you’re not training?
MK: I love to snowboard, watch movies, relax with my family/friends/dog, and go out to eat. I also enjoy watching football, going to the beach and shopping.
DM: Do you have your next fight lined up? In XFC again? Who will your opponent be? When will it take place?
MK: I’ll definitely fight again for the XFC in 2011. I also plan on fighting in other local organizations. I don’t have any fight set in stone at the moment but we are looking!
DM: What female fighter(s) do you look up to if any (in any promotion) Would you want to fight them someday?
MK: I look up to Jessica Aguilar, Meisha Tate, Zoila Frausto, Sara Kaufman and basically all the highly skilled girls who are out there. I try to catch as much women’s MMA as possible and I respect all the other girls who fight a ton because I know of the sacrifices they make to do what they love.
DM: Is there any one person you have to thank for being where you’re at now in this sport?
MK: I want to thank my coaches and training partners the most. Rob Cipriano has put a ton of time into me and has taken my game to the next level. American Top Team is the best camp in the world and I am inspired by the talented guys who I train with everyday.
DM: If you stopped training/fighting tomorrow, what would you be doing? Would you still be involved with the sport somehow?
MK: I’d love to be involved in the sport in other ways. If I had to stop training and fighting I’d like to coach other girls or do some commentating. The gym is a big part of my life and it brings lots people together who all love the same thing. I’ve met lots of cool people through this sport and I really can’t see myself not being able to be involved in one way or the other.
DM: What advice would you give other females out there who may be interested in getting into MMA?
MK: Just do it! Training is hard and can be very challenging mentally and physically but it’s a lot of fun at the same time. Not only will it transform your body but there’s no greater feeling than competing and learning new techniques. It’s a great lifestyle and everyone I know who’s gotten involved in MMA is hooked for life. It’s a lifestyle.
Lew Polley—Seeking Greatness
By Dave Mikle
A multi-sport star in high-school and life-long wrestler, the move into mixed martial arts was a natural progression for Lew Polley. A fierce competitor who “hates losing more than I like winning,” Polley’s accomplishments to date are merely “preparation for a future highlight.” Dropping down to middleweight for the first time in his career, Polley envisions himself as top 5 in the division within 3 years. As for what he wants to accomplish in his mixed martial arts career, Polley aims to have an umbrella of business under his fighting brand, and hopes to be remembered in the same light as the great Muhammad Ali. Explained Polley, “I want to have a great legacy but I want my legacy to pale in comparison to the mention of my integrity and fighting spirit.”
Mixed Martial Arts: The Balance Between Sport and Combat Entertainment
By Drew Young
In sport, excellence is determined by the results of competition, and the primary emphasis is on winning. As a sport, the preeminent goal of a mixed martial artist should also be winning. Prize fighting, however, can have unusual and competing incentives. The pressure to increase marketability and earnings potential influences athletes and promoters to choose more “entertaining” styles and strategies. Likewise, in addition to the pressure to present marketable personas and fighting styles, the bonus structure of major promotions also serves to exert pressure on the athletes competing.
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