Strikeforce Lightweight Interim Champion Gilbert Melendez invited FIGHT! Magazine’s Danny Acosta into his training camp for five days. Acosta documented a week of the San Franciscan’s quest to unify the Strikeforce Lightweight belts versus title-holder Josh Thomson on Dec. 19 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. live on Showtime.
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.— Gilbert Melendez battles one Shields all the time. Today he has to fight two.
A closed-door sparring session sees Clement Shields, Jake Shields’ brother and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Claudio Franca, stop into camp.
After Jake wears Melendez down, takes him to the mat, mounts and back mounts him, Melendez goes on the offensive against Clement, attempting to break down the grapplers strong base against the wall-mounted mats and secure the takedown.
“I feel like my wrestling is actually better than [Josh Thomson],” says Melendez of his upcoming bout against the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion. “I just gotta show it.”
If he stands any chance of putting the champion on his back, taking down the Shields brothers, who each hold a distinct 20-pounds-plus weight advantage, is a good start. He’s broken collar ties, stopped switches and guillotine chokes, even looking for guillotines and rear-naked chokes of his own, but the former San Francisco State wrestler has yet to take Clement down.
“He’s an animal,” says Melendez of Clement, who also has a high school wrestling background. Cesar Gracie refers to fighters that way, so it’s a high compliment from the Interim Strikeforce Lightweight Champion.
“El Nino” starts to find success against Clement, digging deep for takedowns while Jake alternately coaches his brother and Melendez. Shields’ guidance brought Melendez into the sport after the two met at San Francisco State. Shields was already fighting in Gladiator Challenge events and he invited Melendez to train with him at Cesar Gracie’s.
“I was just a kid interested in something new and I wanted to try it out,” says Melendez. The Californian toyed with jiu-jitsu for eight months, sparred for three months and spent two weeks prepping for his first fight with Jake Shields.
“I remember telling myself, ‘Gil, whatever you do, do not throw a haymaker. Whatever you do, do not throw a haymaker.’ Ding ding ding! Haymaker. Waaah,” says the Shooto and Pride veteran. “The guy shoots a single leg on me and takes me down and I was able to overcome and tap him out. My only submission ever.”
After losses to Mitsuhiro Ishida and Thompson, “El Nino” worked with 2008 Olympian Matt Gentry to sharpen the skill that brought him success in the first place; his wrestling. That work, and sessions with bigger, stronger wrestlers have made Melendez believe that he will take down – and take out – Josh Thomson on Dec. 19.