“El Nino” is no longer in the UFC.
Melendez (22-8) was the WEC’s inaugural lightweight champion in 2004, but he’s best known as the two-time Strikeforce lightweight champion. He first won the Strikeforce belt in 2006 when he beat Clay Guida by decision. Melendez lost his title to rival Josh Thomson in 2008, but he won it back in their rematch and bested him again in their trilogy in what was his last Strikeforce appearance before heading to the UFC.
In 2013, Gilbert received an immediate title shot against Benson Henderson, losing a somewhat controversial split decision. He rebounded by winning a “Fight of the Year” thriller over Diego Sanchez later that October, but little did we know that this would be Melendez’s only win of his UFC career.
After nearly being poached by Bellator MMA (before the UFC matched their offer), Melendez got another title shot against Anthony Pettis at UFC 181, losing by guillotine choke in what was the first (and only) stoppage defeat of his career. He was suspended after a decision loss to Eddie Alvarez, having tested positive for PEDs. Upon his return in 2016, he was picked apart by Edson Barboza, dominated by Jeremy Stephens in a featherweight bout in 2017, and most recently lost a one-sided decision to Arnold Allen at UFC 239 in July.
At the height of his career, Melendez was one of the best lightweights in the world, with notable victories over Jorge Masvidal, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and the aforementioned 2-1 edge in his memorable trilogy over Thomson. The Melendez who fought against Allen was clearly a shell of himself, and at 37 years old, we don’t know if this will be the end of Melendez’s MMA career altogether.
In the meantime, Melendez has committed himself to coaching at El Nino Training Center in California.