Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Steven Morrocco: After being 'robbed more than a 7-Eleven,' Strikeforce's Masvidal ready to prove worth

As to the long-term prospects of the two men involved in the main event of "Strikeforce: Meldendez vs. Masvidal," it's not the challenger people are looking at.

The promotion's lightweight champion, Gilbert Melendez (19-2 MMA, 9-1 SF), is expected to do big things in the UFC. Just a week ago, he was all but considered the newest signee of the UFC and the next challenger to that promotion's lightweight champ, Frankie Edgar.

That's not the case, of course. During a press conference Thursday in San Diego, Melendez said it was "back to reality," meaning he still has to fight Jorge Masvidal (22-6 MMA, 4-0 SF) on Dec. 17.

But in all likelihood, Melendez will fight one last fight and defend his title one last time in Strikeforce before a fight with Edgar materializes.

Masvidal, then, finds himself in the position of being the last thing standing between Melendez and his oft-stated desire to fight where the best fighters in the world reside. And he finds himself overlooked.

Look at their comparative resumes, and you can see why. Melendez has been defeated just twice in his nine-year career. He's twice defended the title he won back three years ago from Josh Thomson and before that won and defended an interim title created when Thomson was unable to defend the belt. He's beaten three of his past five opponents by TKO and dispatched DREAM lightweight champion Shinya Aoki. In his most recent appearance, he mauled Japanese standout Tatsuya Kawajiri in one round.

Masvidal is a different story. He's gone unbeaten for two years, bested notables such as Joe Lauzon and Yves Edwards and earned a title shot with two impressive decision victories over Billy Evangelista and onetime welterweight challenger K.J. Noons. Stretched out over eight years, though, his ledger is pockmarked with setbacks.

But look closer, the challenger says.

"If you took the time and you look at my whole fight history, I've never been dominated," Masvidal told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "I've never had a guy just take me down and sit on me. I've got two legitimate losses."

That's when the unheralded Paul Rodriguez caught him with a punch and quickly seized on a rear-naked choke. The other came when Toby Imada caught him (and the world) by surprise with an inverted triangle in Bellator and choked him out cold. The rest of them are "so-called losses." They might be officially recorded as such, but they're not on his scorecard.

"I didn't lose to Paul Daley," Masvidal said. "That Rodrigo Damm stoppage was the worst stoppage of all time. I got robbed by Junior Assuncao. Then in Miami, my own home city, Bellator canceled my fight (with Luis Palomino) and then put it back on. I cut 16 pounds in one day, man. I went out there and still won the fight.

"I've been robbed more than a 7-Eleven, man."

Whether Masvidal is simply puffing out his chest in the face of embarrassment or is legitimately the victim of bad officiating is a matter of opinion. There's still not much that can be done about his status as underdog. And Melendez has certainly created an air of greater value by winning the endorsement of UFC president Dana White, who said he wants "El Nino" in the octagon "ASAP" and, before the official announcement of the Dec. 17 fight, said he may just yank him anyway if it suits his business.

So Masvidal is already fighting an uphill battle of perception. Or is he?

"I really don't care what people think," the 26-year-old said. "The only way I would feel disrespected was if my daughter was to call me a bum. Dana thinks that Gil's the No. 1 guy he's going to bring over. That's cool. If after Dec. 17 people are still thinking the same way, then I'll feel disrespected."

Then man who Masvidal beat to get the title shot thinks he's got a good chance at pulling off the upset.

"I think a lot of the people that Gilbert has thought, he's not fought a guy like Masvidal's style," Noons said.

Melendez said he saw Masvidal coming from a distance, and while he temporarily got caught up in the hype of a possible move to the UFC, he knows he's not in for an easy fight.

"I think he's an underrated fighter," he said. "I think his biggest problem is being inconsistent. He lost to Rodrigo Damm, which he probably should have beat him. That's probably why he's not in the top-10 right now. But when he is focused and motivated, he's definitely a very big threat. Obviously, this is one I assume he's going to be very motivated for."

Actually, though, Masvidal appears no more motivated for this fight than others. Despite the apparent stakes at hand, he brushed off Melendez as "just another tough guy." But he cautioned that those expecting a stopover for the champ en route to the UFC are in for a rude awakening.

"All these fans are going to be pissed off, man," Masvidal said.

"Strikeforce: Meldendez vs. Masvidal" takes place at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. The main card airs live on Showtime while broadcast plans for the preliminary card have yet to be announced.

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