Justin Wilcox (left): Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
American Kickboxing Academy prospect Justin Wilcox has his sights set on the gold that currently rests on the waist of Strikeforce lightweight titleholder Gilbert Melendez.
Wilcox will square off with four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro in the Strikeforce Challengers 12 main event on Friday at the Jackson Convention Complex in Jackson, Miss. Beaten only once in his last nine fights, the San Jose, Calif.-based lightweight has some great expectations.
“I see myself wearing that belt,” he said. “Each fight is one step closer to that belt. That’s what I see myself going after and being a world champion. Whoever they put in front of me is fine. Whoever has the belt at the time is who I want to fight and who I want to beat.”
A decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Ribeiro will enter the match in search of his first victory since April 2009. Wins over former Shooto welterweight champion Tatsuya Kawajiri, one-time Dream lightweight titleholder Joachim Hansen and 2008 Dream lightweight grand prix quarter-finalist Mitsuhiro Ishida made him one of the world’s most respected fighters at 155 pounds prior to his ill-fated encounter with American Top Team’s Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante in September 2007.
Cavalcante blasted through Ribeiro in 35 violent seconds under the K-1 banner. Injured by the onslaught, Shaolin underwent eye surgery and did not compete again for nearly three years. The 31-year-old Brazilian has yet to recapture the glory and respect he once enjoyed in the mixed martial arts world. Wilcox respects the considerable skills he brings to the table but does not fear a ground battle with the polished grappler.
“I’m not underestimating him in the least,” Wilcox said. “I know people think there won’t be a lot of striking, that we’re both going to want to get it to the ground. Wherever he wants to take it is fine by me.”
Wilcox trains out of the same AKA camp that UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, two-time Olympian Daniel Cormier and world-ranked welterweights Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck call home. Preparation does not figure to be an issue.
“It’s been awesome,” Wilcox said. “It’s one of the top gyms in the world. I don’t see myself training anywhere else. Going into my fights, I don’t get too nervous because I’m training against such high-level guys and some world champions. The gym is so complete. You don’t have to travel to get high-level boxing or high-level wrestling. It’s all right there. That’s why I love it so much.”