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Gloves Off: Gilbert Melendez talks Eddie Alvarez, Reebok

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In this feature interview with two time UFC title contender Gilbert Melendez, the long time Strikeforce champ opens up about his thoughts on the Athletic Outfitting Policy with Reebok, as well as his upcoming bout almost a decade in the making.

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For years Gilbert Melendez ruled the lightweight division in Strikeforce, with many fans wondering how he would fare against the upper echelon of his weight class in the UFC. Two of his three fights with Zuffa have been for the lightweight championship, with one closely contested split decision loss, and another bout widely recognized as fight of the year in 2013. Ranked #4 in the world, Melendez will be returning to the Octagon on June 13th to fight fellow top ten opponent Eddie Alvarez in the co-main event of UFC 188, taking place in Mexico City, Mexico.

JS: You and Eddie have a bit of history. What was the series of events between you two leading up to this fight, all the way from the beginning?

GM: I had always wanted to fight Eddie because I thought he was one of the toughest guys outside of the UFC. Pro Elite and Strikeforce did a co-promotion at one time, and I was hoping they would do another, and I pushed for that fight. I think he took that as an insult because I wanted to challenge him.

He talks crap about me having a chance to fight him in Japan in the Dream tournament. The way I recall it, the fact that I went on to other things was the way he got in the tournament. He thought I was ducking him, but he should probably should have been thanking me. As well with Bellator. Bjorn Rebney was knocking on my door trying to sign me up for his first tournament. He came and sat at my gym and told me he liked my demographic and he showed me some of the names he had involved, and it didn’t include Eddie Alvarez at the time.

I just think the two of us have been linked and connected, so this was bound to happen. I don’t like the guy, I don’t think I’m gonna like him after the fight, but I do respect him as a fighter. He bad mouthed me, said some dumb stuff, but I feel I’ve always been a step ahead of him in my career, always done things a bit smarter than him, and I think that will be the case in this fight. I think that will be the difference.

My mindset is to win, but I want iconic fights all day. I want to put myself in the history books. -Gilbert Melendez

JS: Your nickname is the namesake for a violent storm. Joe Rogan called your fight with Sanchez the greatest he'd ever seen in his life. At the end of the day, what is more important to you, entertainment and excitement for your fans, or coming home with the win?

GM: I think the great fight is always more important. It’s a balance though, it’s not just one or the other. I’m already gonna put on a good show, so there’s no pressure to do that, that’s just my style. I don’t know how to fight backwards, I don’t know how to fight like a chump. I know how to come forward and hold my ground. My mindset is to win, but I want iconic fights all day. I want to put myself in the history books.

JS: We fought together on the same card at UFC 181, in which you challenged Anthony Pettis for the lightweight championship. What do you do differently for that fight if you were to do it a second time around?

GM: I had a productive 2014 for my career, but I had a lot on my plate, and I think I could have time managed better. I prepared good for my camp, I felt ready, and come fight time I felt good, but I think I got a bit over aggressive, my boxing wasn’t as sharp as it usually was, just slight calculations that make the difference. If I ran that back I would not be over aggressive, not force the takedown so much, and just let it happen.

JS: You've successfully rematched two of your four losses. Are you interested in rematches with Pettis or Henderson, or do you think you guys are all on different career paths now?

GM: It’s all about timing. I do want both those losses back, but I just want top competition, so if it so happens that my top competition is the last two guys to beat me then it’d be great, but if they fall off and it doesn’t make sense then it’s understandable. I don’t like to look past fights, I have a big fight ahead, but you always think of potential names. Khabib, Cowboy, those are the biggest names, and those are guys I want to test myself against. I think Khabib has put in his time and he beat the champ, but that was his biggest win, and besides that I don't think he's really fought the toughest guys.

JS: Will Ecko remain a Gilbert Melendez sponsor despite not being able to advertise inside the cage?

GM: Ecko will no longer be a sponsor. We did make a deal with Venum, and I’ll be wearing their shorts this fight and they’re going to continue to sponsor me year round. I’m happy with the deal. It’s definitely not the same, but I understand why it’s not the same, because they don’t get the same exposure. It’s fair for what I can provide and give back to them.

I knew maybe one day my sponsors would go away, I just didn’t know that it would happen this soon. -Gilbert Melendez

JS: What are your thoughts on Reebok, and how does it affect you personally?

GM: I just don’t have a complete understanding of it. I understand the UFC has it’s goals for the company. I understand they want everyone to look like a team, it looks professional. I see that, but I just don’t know how the whole thing works and we have to just hope that it’s the best thing for our future. With that being said, the things that my sponsors have done for me have allowed me to become a professional fighter. I had sponsors that paid me monthly, and it helped me get by for day to day life, and the purses I make for my fights, I try to put away and save money for home. I have these relationships with people that have helped me come up, and you want to represent and thank them and show your appreciation because without my sponsors I wouldn’t be here. It sounds corny, but it’s the truth, I wouldn’t be this far without them. I knew maybe one day my sponsors would go away, I just didn’t know that it would happen this soon.

Follow Gilbert Melendez and Josh Samman on Twitter.