Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu has collected countless wins and made plenty of ruckus over the years, but the talented team has yet to hang a UFC belt on its mantle. Former Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez (pictured) is the squad’s latest hopeful.
Despite all the studs in his stable, three of Gracie’s top four current stars – Nick Diaz (twice), Nate Diaz and Jake Shields – are a combined 0-4 in UFC title fights. While Nick is the most likely of the trio to earn another crack at a crown – assuming Mr. 209 decides to end his second retirement, of course – Melendez is possibly the team’s last best shot at hoisting the hardware.
If you want to turn back the hands of time even further, Gil Castillo was defeated by Dave Menne in 2001 for the inaugural UFC middleweight championship, then to Matt Hughes for his welterweight strap one year later. Dave Terrell lost to Evan Tanner for the vacant UFC 185-pound belt in 2005.
Both fighters represented Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
Melendez owns an impressive 21-2 professional record and has rattled off seven consecutive victories. The 31-year-old has long been considered the planet’s best 155-pounder not competing inside the Octagon. “El Niño” finally makes his big league debut Saturday when he challenges reigning UFC champ Benson Henderson for his throne.
With the bright lights, big stage, national TV audience courtesy of FOX and unfulfilled expectations of his teammates hovering over him, Melendez enters the most significant scrap of his life undaunted despite what history and his 2-to-1 underdog status proclaim.
“Thanks for the pressure,” Melendez jokingly said of trying to be the first from his crew to bring home UFC gold. “I hope to win the title for my team, but I really try not to put too much pressure on myself. I go out there and fight, and fight my fight.
“I think it’s a great accomplishment for my whole team just to even get title fights. Not many teams can say that Dave Terrell, Gil Castillo, Nick, Jake and Nate have all had title fights. That’s great for our team. If anything, that’s an accomplishment for our team.
“I’d love to be able to bring that title back to the gym and share it with those guys.”
It’s go time, perhaps for the last time, for Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and Melendez appears fully prepared to serve up an upset special to propel his team to new heights.
UFC on FOX 7 takes place Saturday inside HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.