(A few more fights and Melendez will finally realize his dream of owning matching gloves. Pic: ESPN)
In the weeks since the UFC seized control of Strikeforce, there has understandably been a ton of talk about the potential for cross-promotional superfights. Even as honchos from both companies hold firm that it these dream fights won’t happen right away, the fanboy in all of us can’t help but titter a bit over the thought of Overeem vs. Velasquez, Diaz vs. St. Pierre or Fedor vs. Couture. Fine, maybe that last one would’ve been better had it gone down back in the ’70s, but you see our point. With apologies to the abovementioned dudes however, in the wake of last weekend’s “Diaz vs. Daley” show we can’t help but feel the most valuable commodity the UFC acquired with Strikeforce may well be Gilbert Melendez.
And we mean, like, right now. Immediately. As long as we can all agree that Strikeforce is just beginning its trudge toward the slow, painful death of the dinosaur, dodo and WEC (which we do, right?) there is simply no reason to confine Melendez to a terminally ill roster where he is essentially the only legitimate lightweight. Especially when the UFC lightweight division – arguably the best, most competitive weight class on the planet – has so many current problems. Problems that the abrupt addition of Melendez might solve right away. We explain, after the jump …
Next month, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard will (fingers crossed) finally settle their protracted feud at UFC 130. While that fight will provide some resolution about the rightful owner of the 155-pound strap, it’s really only the beginning of the headaches for UFC matchmakers. For starters, both Edgar and Maynard have had trouble connecting with the company’s hardcore fan base — Maynard because he’s viewed as a boring fighter and Edgar because a lot of people (rightly or wrongly) continue to view him as a blown up featherweight simply keeping the throne warm until someone better comes along. That sucks because both seem like great, likable guys, but it’s reality.
Furthermore – and y’all know this already – whoever emerges from UFC 130 with the belt faces a totally uncertain future. The UFC tried like hell to establish a clear-cut No. 1 contender in recent months, but failed Hindenburg-style when Evan Dunham fell to Melvin Guillard and George Sotiropoulos tanked against Dennis Siver. Neither Siver nor Guillard is ready for primetime, as evidenced by Guillard’s upcoming throwaway fight against Shane Roller and Siver’s impending bout with Matt Wiman and that essentially means the UFC is either pinning its hopes to the winner of Anthony Pettis vs. Clay Guida or seriously considering giving Jim Miller a run at the gold.
Any way you slice it the resulting bout feels pretty underwhelming. You’ll have a less than marketable champion (especially if it’s Maynard) taking on a challenger few fans will view as a legitimate threat to the belt. Where do you book that? Germany, maybe. Not exactly the stuff pay-per-view fortunes are made of.
Unless! Enter Melendez. The Skrap Pack captain absolutely stomped a mudhole in Tatsuya Kawajiri last Saturday and in doing so vaulted himself into near-unanimous Top Three status on our beloved MMA rankings. Heck, MMA Weekly has him at No. 1. Melendez is riding a five-fight win streak during which he avenged his only two career losses and the NorCal crowd loves him almost as much as they love Planet Diaz. You’re tying to tell us Zuffa, LLC has a guy under contract some people believe is the best 155-pounder in the world and the company is going to just let him die on the vine over in Strikeforce? Unacceptable.
Look, this ain’t rocket science: The UFC needs a big, promotable lightweight title fight for the Edgar-Maynard winner and we damn sure know neither guy can sell it on his own. Melendez needs some competition to justify his ranking, and he’s just not gonna get it from Justin Wilcox or KJ Noons. Obvious answer: Dana White holds a press conference on Friday to announce the Edgar-Maynard winner will face a “title unification” bout against Melendez. That fight essentially sell itself and also could also be used to launch Strikeforce into the PPV world, if Zuffa is really serious about doing that. Result: Hardcore MMA fans everywhere have to go change their pants.
Meanwhile, it gives you another 6-8 months to take Guillard, Siver, Sotiropoulos, Pettis and Miller, roll them up in a rug and see who comes out with the most wins. There’s your next No. 1 contender. Maybe it’ll even be Pettis, which gives you another de facto “unification bout” to book.
Boom. Done. Next thing you know it’s 2012 and the lightweight division is kicking ass and taking names. Any questions? Didn’t think so.