It’s been over three years since former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez’s final MMA fight, and nine years since his last win. And yet, as is so often the case for retired combat sports athletes, ‘El Nino’ is not slamming the door shut on coming back.
The 40-year-old Melendez recently appeared on MMA Junkie Radio and discussed the possibility of returning.
“I will always be a fighter, and I try to be as optimal as possible. I know I’m moving on as a professional fighter. I’m no longer focused on being a prizefighter. I’m focusing on my gyms and producing athletes and staying in shape,” Melendez said. “But of course, it’s hard to completely hang it up. If there’s a great opportunity out there and it’s the right fight – I’m not into fighting youngsters who want to stick and move and kick my leg and run, but I do love fighting and I could definitely be enticed to come back. There’s that fight in me.”
Melendez (22-8) was one of the best lightweights in the world at his peak. He was best known for his championship trilogy with Josh Thomson in Strikeforce, losing the first one before taking the second and third fights. After Strikeforce dissolved, Melendez was given a direct UFC title shot against Benson Henderson in his debut, losing a hotly contested split decision. He notched his first (and only) UFC win in a three-round thriller over Diego Sanchez in 2013.
Little did we know that would be his final MMA win to date. A title fight submission defeat to Anthony Pettis at UFC 188 was followed by four more defeats, mixed in with a PED suspension, then one more for good measure after he was released. Since his UFC departure in 2019, Melendez has remained active in combat sports through coaching and commentating on LFA cards. Melendez did acknowledge that this phase of his life is “nearly over,” so he may very well just stay retired.
As far as suitable options for a comeback, Melendez has his eyes on Bellator, where his wife Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez has racked up a 5-0 record, or Khabib Nurmagomedov’s promotion Eagle FC, or even boxing.
“I love fighting, and if I were to fight (again) … Eagle FC, great organization. I think if there’s anyone who really promoted me well, it was Scott Coker. And I am interested in maybe even boxing – some of that stuff does interest me. And I do get hungry,” Melendez said.
There’s no word yet on how Giblert Melendez feels about this.