Jorge Masvidal has never lost inside Strikeforce. | Photo: Mike Fridley/Sherdog.com
Stature means as much, if not more, to Jorge Masvidal than championship gold.
The American Top Team standout will challenge lightweight titleholder Gilbert Melendez for his 155-pound crown in the Strikeforce “Melendez vs. Masvidal” main event on Saturday at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. For Masvidal (22-6, 4-0 SF), the lure of winning a major mixed martial arts championship pales in comparison to the value of testing himself against one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best.
“It means a lot, fighting not just [for] a championship [but] fighting a top-ranked guy who’s either number one or number two [at 155 pounds] in most people’s opinions,” Masvidal said during a pre-fight conference call. “That’s really nice. The belt -- I could really care less for. Sometimes, you fight a guy who has the belt that’s not a top-ranked guy, that could be a scrub or something, but I’m actually fighting one of the top lightweights in the world.”
Masvidal has plenty going for him as he approaches the 29th and most important professional MMA bout of his career. The 27-year-old Miami, Fla., native has bolstered his resume with wins over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 semifinalist Joe Lauzon, former Sengoku Raiden Championship lightweight boss Satoru Kitaoka, onetime International Fight League champion Ryan Schultz and current American Top Team stablemate Yves Edwards. Not bad for a guy who got his start on the streets.
“Wherever the fight goes, I’m ready,” Masvidal said. “That’s where I see my advantages. On the feet, on the ground, I just want to get in there and fight.”
In Melendez, he confronts a champion widely hailed as one of the top two lightweights on the planet, alongside reigning UFC lightweight titleholder Frankie Edgar. The 29-year-old Cesar Gracie protégé last fought in April, when he throttled Japanese ace Tatsuya Kawajiri with elbows en route to a first-round technical knockout. Only once previously had Kawajiri been stopped via strikes. The San Francisco-based Melendez will carry a five-fight winning streak into his latest title defense and has avenged the only two defeats on his record: a December 2007 unanimous decision to Mitsuhiro Ishida and a June 2008 unanimous decision to Josh Thomson.
Though Masvidal respects Melendez’s credentials, he pays them no mind inside the context of their pending five-round encounter.
“It don’t really matter what people say about him,” said Masvidal, who has never fought beyond the third round. “I just want to fight him. I know he’s a solid fighter. That’s all that matters to me. For me, it’s just another fight. Just train hard and train longer because it’s five rounds. That’s the only difference. That’s it; go in there and do my job.”
Melendez does hold a victory over Rodrigo Damm, one of the six men to have beaten Masvidal and the only to have stopped him via strikes. Dream lightweight champion and submission savant Shinya Aoki, current UFC mainstay Clay Guida and Shooto icon Rumina Sato have also fallen prey to the man they call “El Nino.”
“When I say it’s just another fight, it’s not like I’m dissing my opponent skill-wise or anything. I’m just saying I don’t get caught up in [the fact that] it’s a main event, it’s on Showtime or nothing like that,” Masvidal said. “At the end of the day, no matter what’s at stake, it’s just a fight. It’s not like Gil has a gun and I’m going in there empty-handed. It’s just another fight. That’s exactly what I mean.”
Masvidal has endured some fairly high-profile crash-and-burn trauma in his career, most notably his May 2009 loss to Toby Imada in the first Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight tournament.
Imada’s inverted triangle left “Gamebred” unconscious, became a viral hit on YouTube and earned countless “Submission of the Year” awards. To his credit, Masvidal has rebounded, posting five wins in seven outings since.
An accomplished standup fighter with a nose for the finish, Masvidal has delivered nearly half (10) of his 22 wins by knockout or technical knockout and can also draw upon some professional boxing experience. He completed his climb to Strikeforce’s number one contender’s slot in April, when he battered former EliteXC champion K.J. Noons on his way to a unanimous decision at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Masvidal went to a multi-pronged offensive attack against Noons, blending takedowns with jabs, combinations and thudding knees, one of which opened a nasty gash near his foe’s hairline. Masvidal nearly finished it in the first round, as he caught the bloodied Hawaiian with a perfectly timed kick to the side of the head.
Like Melendez, he has designs on someday competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. However, his focus remains on the considerable opportunity before him.
“Whatever happens after, happens after,” Masvidal said. “My focus right now is Strikeforce. Obviously, I’d like to go to the UFC or wherever I’m going to make the most money. That’s my ultimate goal, and I think the UFC is that. So, definitely, that’d be in my plans.”