(Jake Shields and Gil Melendez enjoy Thanksgiving Day.)
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.—It’s Thanksgiving and Gilbert Melendez’ coach, Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields, shows up early at Melendez’ home gym to ensure that “El Nino”’s holidays aren’t too happy. Just weeks away from his Dec. 19 rematch Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thomson, Melendez must stay on course with his training.
Training will keep Melendez from returning hom to Santa Ana, Calif. to visit his family today, and dieting will prevent him from indulging in gut-busting Thanksgiving fare. It’s something he’s accustomed to but that doesn’t make it easier.
“That’s always hard,” says Melendez of missing celebrations with his mom, dad, twin sisters and his first niece, who entered the world in the last 30 days. “But fortunately I’ve met Keri, who is also my family, my girlfriend. I consider her family. I’ve been real fortunate that I’ve met some amazing friends out here, which makes San Francisco that much better. They’re friends, but I can call them family myself and I’m real fortunate to have that.”
After wrapping up an all-encompassing conditioning, sparring and technique session that leaves Melendez and Shields steaming, “El Nino” changes into a grey Metal Militia flannel and a black Dethrone hat. The Oakland Raiders break his heart, losing 24-7 to the Dallas Cowboys while Keri gets ready for Thanksgiving at her family’s house.
Melendez drives his Toyota truck through the San Francisco fog. Keri’s family welcomes him with family photo opportunities and an insistence he eats. He can’t—it’s not part of the right diet, maybe some salad and lean proteins so he can eat but not cheat.
Preventing little kid’s from getting hurt, playing penny poker games and talking about Ninja Assassin occupies most of his night. “When are you fighting?” he is asked repeatedly. Most answer before he does, “December 18th, right?”
He’s polite in correcting everyone and when Keri’s brother dances around an invite to train, Melendez tells him at least come to the fight.
“Were you there last time I fought Thomson?” he asks.
“No—wait, yeah I was!”
“Then don’t come,” Melendez says.