The Orange County Register
POSTED: 12:30 p.m. HST, Apr 19, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 6:07 p.m. HST, Apr 19, 2013
Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez has been considered the best lightweight on the planet outside of the UFC for a long time by many MMA observers.
The former Santa Ana High, Calif., wrestling star makes his highly anticipated UFC debut against lightweight champion Benson Henderson in the main event of UFC on Fox 7 on Saturday at 5 p.m. PDT at HP Pavilion in San Jose.
“It’s crazy, man,” Melendez said. “I can’t believe it. It’s been a roller coaster ride. Now, I’m in the UFC fighting for the title. It’s ridiculous.”
Melendez, who owns victories over Josh Thomson, Jorge Masvidal, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Shinya Aoki and Clay Guida, has always said he wants to challenge himself against the best in the world.
“I mean, he’s the UFC champion. That says it all,” Melendez said of Henderson. “He’s very accomplished at a young age or a young age in the sport. He’s an amazing athlete. He has great tactics and he seems to figure out riddles pretty well with fighters. I’m pretty impressed by the guy.”
Melendez and Henderson both come from a wrestling background, are good in scrambles and aren’t afraid to mix it up in fights.
“We both are similar,” Melendez said. “I think he’s a little stronger with his leg kicks. He is a little more athletic and he does some crazy ninja stuff that maybe I can’t do. But there’s one thing I have, I have that warrior mentality. You know, I’ll take a hit just to give you a hit. I might even take two hits just to give you a good hit. And if I can hit you, I think I can hurt you. I think that’s the difference between us.”
Melendez’s Cesar Garcie teammate and good friend, Nat Diaz, lost a five-round decision to Henderson at UFC on Fox 5 in December.
“It’s definitely something I want for myself, but the fact that this guy beat my friend and got a ‘W’ over my Cesar Gracie fight team, you know, it does fuel the fire a bit more,” Melendez said. “I’d love to get that ‘W’ for us. It’s not my only motivation, but it does motivate me.”
UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones is not getting involved in a Twitter war with his April 27 challenger, Chael Sonnen, but he has plenty to say about his “The Ultimate Fighter 17” coaching rival.
“Chael Sonnen is a guy, people know he’s done steroids throughout his entire career,” Jones said on Fuel TV’s “UFC Tonight.” “Probably the reason why his testosterone is low now.”
Sonnen has always claimed he uses testosterone replacement therapy because of his medical condition, but many in the MMA community believe fighters are using TRT to gain an unfair advantage.
“Basically, I believe if you’re healthy enough to play a sport, you shouldn’t take any performance enhancement drugs or testosterone. Fighters make a lot of money in their 20s, make a lot of money in their 30s, and when they get in their 40s, unfortunately, you’re in your 40s,” Jones said during a conference call last August.
“You should fight the way you fight when you’re in your 40s, switch your style up to stay in the game. I don’t think you should be able to take a drug to pretty much give you the strength of a 30-year-old again.”
Cat Zingano earned a shot at UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and a spot as the coach on “The Ultimate Fighter 18” with her third-round TKO victory over Miesha Tate at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale on Saturday in Las Vegas.
After Zingano’s victory, UFC president Dana White said the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter” is moving to Fox Sports 1. “We’re going to be a big part of the programming and we’re really excited about it,” he said.
Here are the UFC on Fox 7 main-card bouts on Saturday at 5 p.m. on Fox: Henderson (18-2) vs. Melendez (21-2) for UFC lightweight title; Frank Mir (16-6) vs. Daniel Cormier (11-0); Nate Diaz (16-8) vs. Josh Thomson (19-5); and Matt Brown (16-11) vs. Jordan Mein (27-8).
Here are the UFC on Fox 7 prelims on Saturday at 2 p.m. on FX: Chad Mendes (13-1) vs. Darren Elkins (11-2); Francis Carmont (20-7) vs. Lorenz Larkin (13-0); Ramsey Nijem (7-2) vs. Myles Jury (11-0); Joseph Benavidez (17-3) vs. Darren Uyenoyama (8-3); Tim Means (18-3-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (23-7); and T.J. Dillashaw (7-1) vs. Hugo Viani (7-0).
Here are the UFC on Fox 7 prelims on Saturday at 1 p.m. on Facebook: Anthony Njokuani (15-7) vs. Roger Bowling (11-3); and Clifford Starks (8-1) vs. Yoel Romero (4-1).