After years spent as one of the sport’s premier competitors at 155 pounds, Gilbert Melendez at age 35 has decided to return to the old familiar haunts of the featherweight division.
The two-time Strikeforce champion will downshift to 145 pounds when he squares off with the notoriously heavy-handed Jeremy Stephens in a featured attraction at UFC 215 “Johnson vs. Borg” this Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Their three-round featherweight showcase will buoy a five-fight main card headlined by a pair of title bouts: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg and Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko. Melendez has yet to establish solid footing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, having compiled a disappointing 1-4 record since arriving in the promotion in April 2013. Worse yet, he will enter the cage against Stephens on a three-fight losing streak that dates back nearly four years. Melendez nevertheless carries with him one of MMA’s strongest resumes, highlighted by victories over Diego Sanchez, Josh Thomson (twice), Jorge Masvidal, Tatsuya Kawajiri (twice), Shinya Aoki, Clay Guida and Rumina Sato.
The man they call “El Nino” has compiled his share of intriguing statistical data during what has been an outstanding career:
0: Career victories by submission, this despite holding the rank of Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under longtime trainer Cesar Gracie.
1: Ultimate Fighting Championship win under his belt. Melendez defeated Sanchez by unanimous decision at UFC 166 on Oct. 19, 2013.
6: Men other than Melendez who have held the World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight championship. They are Gabe Ruediger, Hermes Franca, “Razor” Rob McCullough, Jamie Varner, Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis. Melendez became the first lightweight champion in the promotion’s history on May 21, 2004, when he stopped Olaf Alfonso on third-round punches at WEC 10.
7: Organizations in which he has competed during his 15-year career. Melendez has fought in the UFC, Strikeforce, Yarennoka, Pride Fighting Championships, Shooto, Rumble on the Rock and the WEC.
10: Championship bouts in Strikeforce, the most in the history of the organization.
12: Career victories by knockout or technical knockout. Melendez’s list of victims includes Kawajiri, Sato and Mitsuhiro Ishida.
13: Consecutive wins to start his career. Melendez made his professional debut at WEC 5 on Oct. 18, 2002 and pieced together a 13-fight winning streak that included victories over Sato, Guida, Kawajiri and Hiroyuki Takaya and set him apart as one of MMA’s best young fighters.
45: Total strikes by which Melendez has outlanded Pettis, Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza during his current three-fight losing streak, per FightMetric.
133: The cumulative win total of the six fighters who have defeated Melendez. They are Henderson, Pettis, Ishida, Thomson, Alvarez and Barboza.
1,869: Days spent as Strikeforce champion. Melendez’s stay at the top was spread over two title reigns, the first covering June 9, 2006 to June 27, 2008, the second covering Dec. 19, 2009 to Jan. 12, 2013.