When Gilbert Melendez moved over to the UFC and was granted an immediate title shot versus Benson Henderson at UFC on FOX 7, most hardcore fans and pundits had no objections to the bout. After all, not only was Melendez the last man to wear Strikeforce’s lightweight belt, but for the years the fighter had been defeating top tier competition in the U.S. and Japan. For many casual and ‘UFC only’ fans, however, they weren’t even familiar with who “El Nino” was.

Melendez went on to show why he’s long been regarded an elite lightweight, by battling Henderson to a split decision loss. Sure, the 31 year-old wanted to win the belt, but as he told the media at pre-UFC 166 function this week, he’s finally getting the widespread recognition he deserved (comments via MMA Fighting.com).

“I had the biggest chip on my shoulder for awhile,” Melendez said. “I wasn’t performing that well. It was good money, but I was bitter at the world that you couldn’t be recognized as a real fighter unless you fought in the UFC. You put so much f— work in and beat good people and travel the world and all kinds of stuff, but it sucked that you still got considered a minor-league fighter all the time.”

“It was all positive stuff,” Melendez said about his razor thin loss to Henderson in July. “Besides winning the title, it was the best ‘B’ scenario for me. The majority of people think I won, 75/25 percent think I won that fight. More recognition than ever, really, nothing to be bitter about aside from not getting the scorecards in a competitive fight. It wasn’t the biggest ripoff in history. It was a close fight, I think I won it, I stand by it, but yeah.”

At UFC 166 this Saturday, Melendez has a tough task in front of him, as he’ll take on former contender Diego Sanchez. It’s a tough fight for the promotion’s #2 ranked lightweight, as not only is Sanchez ridiculously aggressive and rugged, but he’s not currently ranked in the top ten. So, Melendez doesn’t have much to gain in terms of rankings, and a ton to lose.  It should be an interesting and entertaining fight.

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