After a full year's absence from the sport, Gilbert Melendez is ready to re-enter the UFC lightweight title picture as he prepares for Edson Barboza at UFC on FOX 20.
'El Nino', who was suspended for 12 months after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in his bout with Eddie Alvarez at UFC 188, says Alvarez' upset TKO of Rafael dos Anjos earlier this month at UFC Fight Night 90 helped reignite his championship spark.
Alvarez, a former two-time Bellator lightweight champion, blitzed dos Anjos with a flurry of punches in the opening round to seize the UFC 155 pound title. For Melendez, the message was clear: I still have what it takes to become a world champion.
The Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu product lost to Alvarez via split decision in 2015 but feels he 'busted' him up on the night. Both men looked to be unacclimated to the high altitude of Mexico City, which also saw Nate Marquardt suffer from health problems prior to his fight on the main card.
Melendez feels Alvarez' win over dos Anjos was the MMA Gods trying send him a message.
"I really feel like that's the fight gods talking to me," Melendez told FOX Sports in a recent interview. "Sometimes you think it's been a long road in this sport and maybe it's time to cash in on some big paydays so we take a different road. But I feel like these are the fight gods talking to me 'Gilbert, you beat Eddie, he's the champ, beat this guy, you still have it, you can still do it'.
"Everybody knows I busted up Eddie Alvarez so it makes things interesting."
The 34-year-old will have a chance to prove his divisional worth against Edson Barboza later tonight at UFC on FOX: Holm vs. Shevchenko. The event takes place at United Center in Chicago, Illinois and features Barboza vs. Melendez in the co-main event.