There are a lot of haters out there that say Melendez doesn't deserve to be the Strikeforce lightweight champion. They say Meldendez is no B.J. Penn, and popular rankings put MMA lightweights ahead of Melendez such as: Aoki himself, Eddie Alvarez, Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar and even Gray Maynard. Although Melendez is only 27, he has been proving himself throughout his entire MMA career. The wrestling and BJJ sensation has compiled an impressive 17-2 professional MMA record (he has since avenged both of his losses during his Strikeforce career). Melendez started off with the WEC (3-0) before moving overseas to take MMA fights in Japan with organizations such as K-1, SHOOTO and PRIDE (compiling a record of 6-0).
In 2006, Melendez joined Strikeforce for two fights during the organizations early days. After winning his Strikeforce debut, Melendez went on to beat the then lightweight champion, Clay Guida, to earn the Strikeforce lightweight championship a title that Melendez held until June 2008 when he lost to Josh Thompson. Hungry to get his belt back Melendez defeated interim champ (Thompson was out due to nagging injuries) Rodrigo Damm. Melendez then revenged his 2007 loss to Ishida by successfully defending his interim Strikeforce lightweight belt in late 2009. It was not until December of 2009 before Melendez got his opportunity to beat Josh Thompson, unify the Strikeforce lightweight belts and avenge the only other loss to Melendez's MMA career. A challenge which Melendez took full advantage by defeating Josh Thompson in convincing fashion.
This MMA fight with Shinya Aoki is certainly the most difficult of Melendez's career to date. However it was in fact Melendez who called for Aoki after he defeated Josh Thompson and saw Aoki capture the DREAM championship. One thing I know about Melendez is that he has tremendous heart and wants to push himself against the best in the world - a wish that was granted by Strikeforce.
Japan knows Aoki as the best lightweight MMA fighter in the world. The rest of the world thinks of Aoki second only to B.J. Penn. One thing is for certain, Aoki is a well-rounded, disciplined and dangerous fighter. The 26 year old Aoki is currently 23-4, 1 NC and holds a black belt in BJJ and Judo. Aoki has beaten some of the best lightweight fighters in the world including; George Sotiropoulos, Akira Kikuchi, Caol Uno, Eddie Alvarez, Joachim Hansen and most recently over Sengoku lightweight champion Mizuto Hirota. The fight against Melendez at Strikeforce: Nashville MMA will be Aoki's first MMA fight outside of Japan.
If Nashville MMA fans had not heard of Aoki, they certainly learned of him after his violent win over Hirota. It was Aoki who was controlling the fight on the ground before he finally placed Hirota in a Hammerlock submission. Before Hirota knew how compromised his position was, Aoki cranked over his arm until it broke. The events that transpired next are what made headlines around the world. Upon releasing the hold, Aoki stood over a badly injured Hirota and proceeded to give him the finger while he laid in pain, thus making Brock Lesnar look like a mere middle school bully. The video below shows the MMA fight between Aoki and Hirota (the fight automatically starts right before Aoki breaks his arm but feel free to watch from the beginning in order to get a true appreciation of Aoki's submission skills.
Although Gilbert Melendez has strong wrestling & BJJ - his competency is no where near the level of Aoki's - we confidently give the grappling advantage to Aoki in this most important category. We give conditioning and athleticism to Aoki due to his previous fight showings. It is also clear that Aoki has the advantage when it comes to the level of competition faced by each fighter. The only advantage the Melendez has is that he will be fighting on his own turf in Nashville, TN and I'm pretty sure that the Nashville MMA fans will be behind Melendez. However I don't think the boos and unfamiliar environment will be enough to disrupt Aoki from defeating Gilbert Melendez at Strikeforce: Nashville MMA. Aoki will be able to control the pace and dominate as the MMA fight progresses into the later rounds. Shinya Aoki wins after a 3rd round submission victory.