Gilbert Melendez understands why so many people may be obsessed over the idea that a judging controversy took place at UFC on FOX 7, but as far as he’s concerned, no such thing exists.
In fact, following a narrow split-decision loss to UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (19-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC) at this past weekend’s UFC on FOX 7 event, Melendez (21-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) said he’s encouraged by one aspect of the supposed conflict of interest.
Soon after Melendez, Strikeforce’s final lightweight champion, suffered his title loss on April 20, many in the industry focused on judge Wade Vierra, who was the only one of three judges to submit a winning score for Melendez. As it turns out, Vierra served was an instructor at a school affiliated with Melendez’s occasional coach, Cesar Gracie.
“I don’t know the guy, but it’s good to know someone is training out there that’s a judge,” Melendez today told MMAjunkie.com Radio. “I don’t know the dude. I don’t know Wade Vierra. I don’t. I can’t say I haven’t shook someone’s hand or something. I’ve met a lot of people in my life. But do I know Wade Vierra? Is he in my phonebook? Do I see him or do I know him? No. I don’t know who the guy is. I don’t know him.”
In fact, in a recent chat with MMAjunkie.com, California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster defended the assignment of Vierra, who scored the highly competitive fight 48-47 for Melendez. Judges Derek Cleary and Michael Bell, meanwhile, scored it 48-47 for Henderson, who took the split-decision win and defended his title for the third time.
“I think it’d be a bigger deal if I won, but either way, I lost,” Melendez said. “Either I lost the split or the unanimous. It doesn’t matter. I lost, dude. I lost. It doesn’t really matter. Benson is still the champ.”
But what if he learned that Cleary or Bell were somehow affiliated with the The MMA Lab, Henderson’s primary camp? Melendez supports the idea that commissions should assure there are no obvious conflicts of interest, but in the case of Vierra, he said there simply isn’t one.
Still, he hates to think a possible win would have been tainted by such speculation.
“The MMA Lab isn’t a brand like the Gracie’s that’s been around for years and they just franchise to everyone,” he said. “The Gracie brand is huge. The Lab is a little different, but yeah, that’s not my job. But [the commissions] should pay attention to all that kind of stuff. Of course you don’t want a conflict of interest. I wouldn’t want to win and everyone tell me I’m a cheater or something like that. I don’t want to win on an F-upped type of thing.”
Melendez said we should instead focus on the positives, including the fact that an MMA judge actually has an idea about what’s going in the cage. He said that’s an important aspect of this whole saga.
“The positive thing is that if the guy is training, that’s a good thing,” he said. “Yeah, you’ve got be selective about [any potential conflicts of interest], but some judges just don’t know what’s going on. I wish they’d get on the mat and train and really feel what it’s like and do some boxing or some muay Thai and visit some gyms.”
As for the fight itself, Melendez took a little time off immediately afterward but finally watched a replay with a fresh set of eyes. And his opinion is the same now that it was on fight night.
“I really thought I won that fight,” he said. “I felt I won the first two (rounds) and the last. And honestly, the third, I thought it was pretty dang close and that I won that too.
“It was a close one. It was a battle. Benson Henderson is a stud. But I thought just I was the more dominant fighter in there and taking more risks and making it a fight. I could go on and on about it, but it is what it is, I guess.”
As for what’s next, Melendez is scheduled to marry his longtime girlfriend, fighter Keri Anne Taylor, in July. He said he’ll be ready for another UFC fight two or three months after that. Potential opponents? He named everyone from Anthony Pettis to Donald Cerrone to Jim Miller to Joe Lauzon to Diego Sanchez. He said he’s essentially a kid in a candy store as he anticipates all the potential new matchups that weren’t previously available when he ruled Strikeforce.
Sure, he’s coming off a loss, but he feels like he represented Strikeforce well, dismissed complaints about his quality of competition in recent years, and that fight fans are going to be excited to see his next bout.
“Honestly, I felt like the biggest winner that night,” he said. “I really did. I really feel like I made a statement. It was devastating to lose, but I feel like I arrived in the UFC. I got respect. A lot of people thought I was garbage (previously), so there’s a lot of positive things. I’m actually pretty high on life right now.”
For complete coverage of UFC on FOX 7, check out the UFC Events section of the site.
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