Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez is aware of the expectations that accompany her name.
As the wife of an ex-Strikeforce lightweight champion and former UFC title challenger, Taylor-Melendez, who faces Hadley Griffith in a kickboxing bout at Bellator 142 “Dynamite,” isn’t your average promotional newcomer.
“There definitely is a little bit more pressure,” Taylor-Melendez told Sherdog.com. “I’m definitely new to all these interviews. I feel like just training really hard, I feel put together right now. It makes me feel at ease going into the fight.”
While Taylor-Melendez is no stranger to the combat sports circuit -- she’s been kickboxing for the past nine years and most recently fought this past March -- she hasn’t competed on a stage quite as large as the one she will occupy at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., come Saturday night. The Glory showdown between Taylor-Melendez and Griffith is part of the evening’s eight-bout main card, which airs on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
“It’s a big jump,” Taylor-Melendez told Sherdog.com. “I feel like being on a bigger stage is a little bit of a new challenge for me, but I think I’ve prepared and I’ve had a great eight-week training camp. I think I’m excited and ready to show my skills on a bigger stage.”
Taylor-Melendez has the added benefit of being able to follow the example of her husband, Gilbert Melendez, who has navigated the waters of some of the sport’s largest MMA promotions for the past decade. His presence alone gives Taylor-Melendez a solid foundation heading into her Bellator debut.
“My husband’s awesome. I’ve seen him go through it over and over again,” she said of Melendez, who is currently serveing a one-year suspension for failing a post-fight drug test following a loss to Eddie Alvarez at UFC 188. “I’ve seen his training partners go through it also. He’s been a big support mentally, physically. He’s been awesome.”
Eventually, Taylor-Melendez plans on carving her own niche in mixed martial arts. It was something she had planned on doing earlier, but a torn ACL followed by the birth of the couple’s daughter, Leylakay, put those cage-based aspirations on hold. Now officially part of the Bellator roster, Taylor-Melendez would like to make her MMA debut in 2016.
“That is the plan. Right now I’m just gonna focus on this bout coming up, but that’s the plan to next year make my MMA debut,” she said.
“I’m thinking maybe April or June,” she continued. “I’m gonna leave that up to my coaches and [Bellator President] Scott Coker.”
The decision for Taylor-Melendez to begin her MMA foray with Bellator was an easy one considering the relationship both she and Melendez forged with Coker dating back to “El Nino’s” days in Strikeforce.
“I got to see firsthand how Scott Coker treats his fighters and how he treated my husband,” she said. “Scott Coker has been awesome to our family, and he came to our wedding.”
As she prepares for both Bellator “Dynamite” and her eventual MMA debut, the 31-year-old Californian has taken advantage of her husband’s connections as a recent coach on Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” sparring with the likes of Rose Namajunas and Angela Hill, both of whom competed on the reality show. Another big influence is UFC and Invicta FC veteran Leslie Smith, a fighter who wanted to keep going despite having her ear essentially split in half against Jessica Eye at UFC 180 this past November.
“She is just mean,” Taylor-Melendez said. “I feel lucky and blessed to have a training partner like that.”
While it might be tempting to look past Griffith, an opponent who sports a 1-4 MMA record but has no prior professional kickboxing experience, Taylor-Melendez has wisely stayed focused on the task at hand.
“My team, my husband and my coach, we’ve all watched some tape on her. I like to watch tape on my opponent,” Taylor-Melendez said. “She’s a little bit awkward for me because she’s so tall, but I think we’ve developed a good game plan, and I think I have all the tools to beat her.”
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