Undefeated Strikeforce World Lightweight (155 lb. limit) Champion, “El Nino” Gilbert Melendez (12-0), will take on former Shooto star, Tetsuji Kato (18-7), in a non-title bout during the highly-anticipated Strikeforce extravaganza at The Playboy Mansion on Saturday.
“This is definitely a challenge because it’s a bigger guy dropping down in weight and he’s got a lot of experience,” said the 25-year-old Melendez, whose start on the first-ever mixed martial arts fight card at the world-famous home of entertainment mogul Hugh Hefner, will be his first of 2007. “It’s been a while since I fought so I’m super pumped about coming back.”
Melendez’s last effort, a meeting with superstar Tatsuya “Crusher” Kawajiri during Pride Fighting Championship’s star-studded “Shockwave 2006” affair in Japan on New Year’s Eve, was the American’s toughest challenge thus far in his five-year professional career. Melendez showed tremendous poise as he handled Kawajiri intelligently before walking away with a unanimous decision victory following the close of two rounds. The win propelled the American young gun into the world rankings of every major, independent ratings system.
“I take it as a compliment, but I just see myself in the top 10,” said Melendez of the recognition he has gained by the various outlets, a number of which position him as high as three amongst all lightweights around the globe. “Any of the guys in the top 10 are capable of being number 1 on any given day. That’s how I see it and I think I have a lot more to prove. I really appreciate that people do give me that ranking and I want to prove them all right, but I think it’s gonna take a couple more wins to prove it.”
Melendez snatched the Strikeforce crown away from former junior collegiate wrestling star Clay “The Carpenter” Guida at San Jose, California’s HP Pavilion on June 9th of last year. The challenger kept the majority of the five-round fight standing and battered Guida with a full Muay Thai offensive before securing the judges’ favor.
The 29-year-old Kato, who has traditionally competed in the 167-pound limit welterweight class, is looking to re-establish him as a force in mixed martial arts following a recent defeat at the hands of Joe Camacho. Kato had been forced to cut a substantial amount of weight after accepting the fight on only two weeks’ notice.
Kato’s best showings to date have been his conquests of American standouts Thomas “The Wildman” Denny and Ray “Bradda” Cooper, both of which came during his Shooto days earlier in the decade. On March 17, 2000, Kato nearly pulled off an upset of gargantuan proportions when he faced top-five rated countryman Hayato Sakurai. At the close of their three-round dual, however, Sakurai escaped with a majority judges’ decision.