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The Case for Gilbert: Is Melendez the Cure for What Ails the UFC Lightweight Division?

(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.

Cagepotato Comments

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Jawbreaker_46- April 13, 2011 at 9:07 pm
Melendez is deserving for sure, but if they don't go that route I think the winner of Guida vs Pettis would be a worthy challenger too. Give Miller Aoki, and if he pulls that off, you have to give him a title shot.
irisddd- April 13, 2011 at 7:47 pm
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ThrashingMad- April 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm
Aoki deserves another shot at Gil.
superflat- April 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm
Ironically, the UFC needs to learn to bargain from a non-monopoly position to take advantage of its Strikeforce acquisition. Fighters under contract? Give me a break. Give Showtime a slice of the PPV action, or run some UFC cards on Showtime. This is the leverage they can use to allow these fighters to break their contracts. And yeah, they'll have to renegotiate with Diaz, Melendez, and the like. But the UFC truly believes whatever additional money they'll spend to keep these fighters on the payroll won't be money well spent?
TfTransplant- April 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm
Would this be what a Lightweight GP might look like? I couldn't narrow it down to 8 with the talent out there. Yes, I added Eddie Alvarez to the roster(s).
intercept440- April 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm
@ Mongrel sarcasm dude.. sarcasm and i however neversaid shit about edgar, i think edgar would beat melendez since you brought it up though
fACE7biter- April 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm
Soon as I read your comment, memories of that fight came rushing back to me, and I stand corrected. An excellent analogy.
RwilsonR- April 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm
@ bitteralex - I've watched Melendez for a long time, and I still came to the conclusion you did after watching him one time. He's tenacious with a lot of heart, has a good chin, a good gas tank, has long arms, and a decent ground game. He lacks the discipline and technique. He will be somewhere outside of the top 5 in the UFC. Probably closer to 10.
Mofo- April 13, 2011 at 12:47 pm
WTF? That's an "8" and a parenthesis, not a stupid emoticon. Stupid wordpress cage potato... rassin frassin...
Mofo- April 13, 2011 at 12:45 pm
8) He is a ferengi:
MonsterMaulingAss- April 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm
P.S. Pettis is going to have the belt(ufc), its just a matter of time until he showtime kicks the chaos that is the ufc lightweight division into an endless vortex of domination which melendez will also be dragged into. Leaving only Alverez, and the 2 will fight and stars will fall from the sky as mountains and oceans shift and reform, and the referee which is the sun will signal the end of the fight with a supernova. And all will be right with the lightweight division of MMA.
MonsterMaulingAss- April 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm
Im pretty sure strikeforces' lightweight division will experience more depth as the ufc has a PACKED lightweight division due to the wec merger. And i see a good chunk of them moving to strikeforce pretty soon, benefiting both organizations a great deal as strikeforce lightweight class is a dry lake with a big ass melendez-cat-fish.

cross promotional super fights with the champs dont seem realistic at this point, at least not this early in the relationship.
bitteralex- April 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm
sorry but I can't see how Melendez is ranked so high... I watched for the first time on sat and I wasn't too impressed with his standup... wide looping punches... he'd get destroyed by edgar... he's too fast and his movement is crazy... the only reason I'd watch the fight is to watch Edgar beat him up for 5 rounds... granted I've only watched Melendez fight once but can someone tell me what he would bring to the fight that bj couldn't?
rogerw- April 13, 2011 at 12:10 pm
The only problem in the UFC's lightweight division is depth of talent, adding Melendez wouldn't solve that at all. Maybe he could win the title which would make him a very legitimate champ, but the question of who the #1 contender is would still be unsolved.
knucklesamitch- April 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

It's kind of hard to put Aoki when he spends majority of the match scooting around like the dog who has an itchy asshole.
Boo- April 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm
The Nino = 2012 UFC Lightweight champ.
fACE7biter- April 13, 2011 at 11:57 am
Why all the big to-do about Gilbert? Like a funny looking little Mexican with an awful haircut is the savior of the lightweight division? His last two wins were against mediocre fighters from a country where MMA is dying and its impossible to find a cage to train in. And though he dominated Aoki, he couldn't put him away. The lightweight division has enough contenders,and Strikeforce still has a Showtime contract, so stop with these immature ramblings about Melendez in the UFC. If anything, UFC could offload some of their lightweight surplus to SF and give Melendez a good contest. Its all moot anyway until Edgar fights Maynard and Pettis fight Guida anyway. if anything, why not offer Jim Miller a shot against Gilbert Melendez? It doesn't make sense for him to have to fight again in a non-title bout when he's on such a long win streak. This way he gets his just reward and gets to fight sooner than later, while the UFC lightweight division sorts itself out.
RSparrow- April 13, 2011 at 11:55 am
"Who's the lightweight champ anyways?" Gilbo Baggins bro.
Get Off Me- April 13, 2011 at 11:53 am
Do I think Gil Melendez is UFC worthy? Yes
Do I like making money off Gil Melendez fighting lower tier talent in Strikeforce? Yes
Do I like watching more competitive fights or making money? Making money.

George Sotiropolous has the weirdest body by far.
El Guapo- April 13, 2011 at 11:45 am
^Furreal, Fred. Ben would matchup Melendez and Edgar in the first round. Coker would somehow get Fedor involved.
Fried Taco- April 13, 2011 at 11:38 am
I think a LW tournament is a good idea, as long as neither Scott Coker or BenG draw up the brackets.
RwilsonR- April 13, 2011 at 11:32 am
"...there is simply no reason to confine Melendez to a terminally ill roster where he is essentially the only legitimate lightweight."
That right there is why Gilbert is so overrated, and doesn't really excite me all that much in the UFC LW roster. There are plenty of good fights for him in the UFC, but there are already plenty of great fights to be made in the UFC LW division. When all is said and done, I don't think Gil ends up in the top 5 of the weight class. I don't think he is deserving of an immediate title fight, and I have no doubt he would lose that match. Edgar, Maynard, and Penn will all beat Melendez every time. If Guida weren't tied up, I wouldn't mind seeing a rematch there. I think Guida would take it this time.
El Famous Burrito- April 13, 2011 at 11:30 am

I kind of like Killbert.
Or Q-Bert.
Fedor Penn- April 13, 2011 at 11:28 am
I feel like Pettis should get a shot because he had the WEC belt and I feel the same about Melendez because he has the Strikeforce belt. Either way Melendez will smash Edgar, Maynard, and Pettis. I think they two best lightweights are Melendez and Alvarez.
LOKI- April 13, 2011 at 11:28 am
@Mofo-If he did RushFit, got a business cut, gave big ups to gebus when he wins, and pronounced his name 'Killbert' would that make him less of a d-bag...or more?