Will Melendez get the call for UFC?

Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez fights on Saturday against Josh Thomson.

Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez fights on Saturday against Josh Thomson.

Neil Springer, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:49 PM ET

It’s no secret Gilbert Melendez was less than thrilled when he found out he was facing Josh Thomson for a third time.

“You want to try to fight someone who raises your stock,” Melendez said on a recent conference call. “Josh is a tough opponent. He’s another tough opponent I have to fight who isn’t on the radar because of the UFC.

“For business moves, you try to fight guys who have big names. There are a lot of guys in the UFC who have bigger names than us just because they’re in the UFC.”

Despite his initial disappointment, Melendez will defend the Strikeforce lightweight championship against Thomson in the co-main event of Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier in San Jose, Calif., on May 19. Canadian fans can catch the card on the Super Channel.

However, since Melendez had essentially cleared out his own division, he seemed destined to join the other top fighters being plucked by the UFC late last year.

Shockingly, Melendez was forced to stay put. A glimmer of hope soon emerged, as rumours swirled that either B.J. Penn or Gray Maynard would be brought over to challenge him, but nothing materialized.

“Initially there were some discussions and hope of maybe fighting B.J. and maybe even some talk of fighting Gray,” Melendez said. “But that’s all it was — talk. It never became inked in paper. Then they said Josh’s name and I was cool with that, as well.”

Melendez admitted that staying with Strikeforce required him to change his priorities.

“I’ve kind of redone my goals a little bit,” Melendez began. “Obviously to be the No. 1 fighter in the world, you’ve got to be the UFC champ. It’s just the way it is.

“I’m just trying to find different motivations, like that pay cheque, my team and my family.

“If I’m going to do this, I’m going to have fun, not be stressed going out to every practice and just do the best I can do. That’s what I’ve been doing. The stress is there, but not so bad. It is what it is and I’ve just got to roll with the punches on this one.”

Thomson said he isn’t offended by Melendez’s lack of enthusiasm.

“No, not at all,” Thomson said casually. “If that’s the way he feels, that’s the way he feels.

“I thought (Strikeforce) was going to give it to (Pat) Healy, to be honest, then give me another fight between the process, but they came to me and asked me. What else are you going to do? You can’t turn down a title fight.”

Melendez knows he can’t look past Thomson, who dethroned him via unanimous decision on June 27, 2008. Melendez would then return the favour 18 months later.

“Once I knew that (a move to the UFC) wasn’t happening and I had to fight Josh, I accepted it,” Melendez said. “I know it’s a tough task at hand, so I’ve been focused on it ever since. It’s what I do for every fight. I’m a professional. I train hard, I do my work, I go to work and I do my best.”

Thomson fought once soon after their first encounter, but has been plagued by injury since. The two were set to rematch on April 11, 2009, but Thomson suffered a broken ankle that would keep him out of action for 15 months. On New Year’s eve 2010, he hurt his wrist during a bout with Tatsuya Kawajiri and was sidelined for yet another 15-month stretch.

In total Thomson has fought only six times over the past four years. He attempted to scale back his intense training regimen ahead of his unanimous-decision victory over K.J. Noons in March, but his performance suffered as a result.

Thomson said he’s still trying to find the right balance in his camp.

“I went back to kind of what I was doing before, but I got rid of a third workout in the middle of the day to keep myself from over-training,” Thomson said. “I focus more on technique and tightening up my game from the stand-up to the ground to everything. Just becoming more of a student of the sport again. You know, keeping the standup nice and tight, straight punches, not winging it and brawling.

“My grappling had taken a backseat with all the injuries, so I’ve just been spending more time with that.”

Immediately following their second encounter, there were rumblings of a potential rubber match. Thomson admits that when those died down, so did the hype surrounding a conclusion to their trilogy.

“I think some of the lustre has been lost because it has been so long,” Thomson said. “But the reason why is I got injured again. I ended up tearing some ligaments in my wrist last year after the Kawajiri fight and I was out for a whole year. That was the biggest problem, but everything has been good since then.”

AROUND THE OCTAGON

Former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Muhammed (King Mo) Lawal has signed with both Bellator Fighting Championships and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. This is the first time in North American history an athlete has signed on to simultaneously do both real fighting and fake wrestling ... Dan Henderson will challenge Jon Jones for the UFC light-heavyweight championship at UFC 151 in Las Vegas Sept. 1 ... Dustin Poirier wants a featherweight title shot if he beats Chan Sung Jung at UFC on FUEL TV 3 on Tuesday ... After beating Marlon Sandro to win this season’s Bellator featherweight tournament, Daniel Straus will meet the winner of the coming title fight between Pat Curran and Patricio Freire.


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