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Can Gilbert Melendez Stay Focused In The Face Of A UFC Fantasy Future?

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Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez has UFC dreams. But before he can move to the big show, he's got to get past Jorge Masvidal.

Photo by Esther Lin for Showtime Sports.
Photo by Esther Lin for Showtime Sports.

Gilbert Melendez is ready to take the next step in his professional fighting career. And quite a career it's been. The 29 year old fighter has compiled a 19-2 record - and done it on a steady diet of top competition. He's beaten some of the top fighters in his weight class, shredded the myth of Japanese sensation Shinya Aoki, and planted himself at the very top of the Strikeforce food chain.

Of course, all those things combined haven't prevented him from being MMA's forgotten man. Like it or not, to many fans, if you aren't in the UFC you don't count. And it's not even a conscious dismissal. Competing outside the UFC, to the casual fan, is the same as not existing at all.

Melendez has seen the difference. Despite being ranked second at lightweight in the USA Today/MMA Nantion Consensus Rankings, Melendez is not a household name. He's watched teammates like the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields find fame and fortune. Soon, it will be his turn.

"It's obvious it's something we've been talking about. I think it's inevitable," Melendez told MMA Fighting.  "I think some of the top fighters need to go to the UFC. And I'm one of those guys, so it's in the works. Things have been talked about. Am I in [the discussions] all the time? Am I the one talking to them? No. But there's some dialogue going on and I mean, the goal is to be the UFC champion at the end of the day. The goal is to be No. 1 in the world at the end of the day. And the only way to do that is by getting the UFC title."

Standing in the way of Melendez's main event dreams is Jorge Masvidal. A scrappy fighter who made his name in the Miami street fight scene, Masvidal is an enormous underdog. But Melendez isn't overlooking anyone - his mind is in the present, not a fantasy future as UFC champion.

"A lot of people have been talking nonsense, that Jorge is no good," he said. "...that talk kind of bothers me because some people are ignorant. They don't really follow the game that much. If you don't fight in the UFC, they think you're no good. So what's been the challenge for me is motivating myself and staying motivated and pumping myself up."