There will be a lot at stake for former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez later tonight (Sat., Sept. 9, 2017) at UFC 215 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from inside Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Not only is the 35-year-old veteran trying to reinvent himself in the UFC’s featherweight division amidst a three-fight losing streak, but he’ll have to strike his way past established power puncher Jeremy Stephens in the process.

While Melendez hasn’t captured a UFC victory since beating the eyebrow off of Diego Sanchez back at UFC 166, he remains confident in his boxing, unflappable chin, and diverse set of skills. In order to get past a menacing opponent like “Lil Heathen,” Melendez must channel all of his strengths this weekend in Edmonton.

“I’m not afraid to say that I think I am the more skilled, technical, and more intelligent fighter, and I think that will play a difference in this fight,” Melendez said about Stephens during a recent edition of the Fight Society podcast. “I think he’s a very tough fighter. Not a one trick pony, but maybe he does limit in some of his skills, but they’re the most important parts. We start on our feet and we’re striking so it’s very important to be tough in that area, which he’s great at. I’ve watched some video and I feel like I know what to expect. It’s definitely a tough thing to face but I do feel like I know what to expect.

“I feel like I do have more tricks and tools to play out there.”

Considering “El Nino” hasn’t fought since losing to Edson Barboza over one year ago he’ll likely experience some sort of temporary cage rust at UFC 215. But once he’s able to bite down on his mouthpiece and charge forward, Melendez believes he’ll take over Stephens’ spot as the featherweight division’s most feared wrecking machine and move closer to another UFC title shot.

“I feel like I am one big win away from being in title contention at 145,” Melendez said. “Just the way things play out and the way the sport works here, you’re essentially as good as your last fight. I think Jeremy Stephens is a very tough task. He’s a bulldozer in this weight class and we’re pretty much similar. I’d like to take his role over in the weight class. Be the guy who takes the center of the Octagon that you try to run from.

“A very dominant win here can really move me up in status in that weight class.”

If Melendez is able to finish Stephens in epic fashion at UFC 215 he’ll most likely enter the division’s top 10 with ease. And knowing how good “El Nino” can be when he’s at his best, a victory this weekend could spark a lengthy win streak inside of the cage.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 215 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.