Gilbert Melendez comes ‘full circle’ working with Scott Coker on new promotion, addresses potential comeback

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When Strikeforce sold in 2011 and the promotion was later shuttered, Gilbert Melendez never imagined he would end up working with former owner Scott Coker.

For a huge part of Melendez’s career, Coker was his promoter. But now, they’ll team up to help launch a new organization called Fight Night at the Tech, which features a mix of veterans and up-and-coming fighters competing close to where Strikeforce once called home.

Melendez said the chance to wear a different hat as a spokesperson and ambassador for the new brand – plus working with Coker again – really did feel like a dream come true.

“Scott Coker and I have had a great relationship for years,” Melendez told MMA Fighting. “Scott has come to my wedding. He helped promote me as a fighter, but not only me but my wife; my wife before we even knew each other. So we have such a great relationship, and with getting wind of Bellator ending and knowing Scott, he wanted to maybe chill for a little bit. But I’m a fighter, he’s a fighter at heart. He’s a martial artist. We started sitting down, brainstorming. figuring out things we could do, maybe I would fight again, maybe we’ll do some stuff. I was really pressuring him to do something with me, and I even threw in some fight stuff, like I’m really ready to step into that avenue in a little bit and see what I can do.

“After constant meetings and us talking about it, I think it was important for him to bring martial arts back to the Bay Area. We have so much talent out here, and he feels it’s his obligation to revive Bay Area mixed martial arts with all this talent out here. He selected me. He gave me the option saying, ‘I really want you to lead this, I want you to be a spokesperson and ambassador for it,’ and here we are.”

Coker’s official title is executive producer; he co-owned Strikeforce and then served as president in Bellator for nearly a decade. That role ended after the PFL bought out Bellator and absorbed the promotion, but Coker opted not to stick around in a different role with the organization.

Instead, he’ll team up with Melendez on Fight Night at the Tech. The first card is scheduled for May 18 and the hope is to promote at least four cards per year moving forward.

“It feels like I’m returning to my roots,” Melendez said. “I think a lot of people forget what Scott brought to the community. Though we were all competing against each other and trying to kill each other and there were rivalries, it was a very essential and necessary ecosystem created by Scott.

“I think a lot of us don’t remember that or don’t acknowledge that, but it’s something that I understand very well. Scott is really good at creating an ecosystem where we can all compete, we can all eat, we can all challenge each other. It’s necessary.”

Coker scouted, discovered, and offered a lot of fighters a chance to launch their careers, and now, Melendez gets to do the same in his new role with the upstart organization.

“For sure, it’s a full-circle moment,” Melendez explained. “Not only for myself, but it’s a full circle moment for the community. Because now I’m in this giving stage for my community, and I’ve been a coach, and I’m going to these events and I’m there, I look to the right and I see Cain Velasquez, I see Urijah Faber, I see myself, I see Dave Terrell. I see all these legendary warriors, and now it’s full circle and we’re coaches, and I have this other full circle moment, and I get to step into the shoes of Scott Coker. I’ve always recognized what he’s done and how important he is, and I always play the game right.

“I have a great relationship with Scott, and it is a full circle moment. I’ve been a fighter, a coach, an analyst, a commentator, and I’ll tell you what, I love this sport and I want to be in it until the day that I die. I want the best seat in the house, and Scott always has the best seat in the house, so I want to be there with him.”

Melendez said when he first started talking to Coker about working together, he hinted at a potential return to action; he last competed in 2019 prior to his exit from the UFC. He may not want to book a full-time fight schedule again, especially with all the other commitments happening his life, but the 41-year-old veteran still envisions a return to action one day in the future.

“I do want to fight,” Melendez said. “I would love to fight one of these days. I stay in shape all the time. I train with my team but right now, I’m in the giving stage of my life. I know my fight career is done. I would love to fight for myself now, which would be fun, but I’m in a giving stage.”

The giving stage involves the next generation of fighters looking for opportunities like Coker once gave Melendez when he was competing under the Strikeforce banner. Now Melendez wants to do the same for fighters near his home in California.

“We believe there are a lot of diamonds in the rough out here,” Melendez said. “But there are some established fighters, there are some veterans who really paved the way out here, who continues to keep the fire alive for Bay Area martial arts and Scott and I and the team want to highlight them.”

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