Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Henderson/Edgar winner needs to face Melendez sooner rather than later

While I’m giddy with excitement counting down the days until Benson Henderson faces Frankie Edgar, and the entire UFC Japan card in general, I can’t help but wonder what’s next for the winner. The talent-loaded UFC lightweight division is as convoluted as ever right now, so in my mind, there is one clear cut contender that should get the next shot: Gilbert Melendez. That’s right, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. At first, the MMA community was drooling at Dana White when he stated, “I’ll yank him out if I have to. I want Melendez in the UFC as soon as possible,” about Gilbert. In my opinion, Dana White’s worst decision this year (and probably his only bad decision) was adhering to Showtime brass by agreeing to keep Melendez in Strikeforce for the foreseeable future. Although I am happy Strikeforce gets to stick around for a little while longer, if only to watch Miesha Tate fights and see how Luke Rockhold develops, I am very disappointed that El Nino is stuck in the hexagon rather than the Octagon. Here’s why Melendez should fight the winner of February’s title fight as soon as possible:

The UFC lightweight division is a mess right now – While the fights have been absolutely phenomenal, the fact remains that there is no clear cut challenger for the belt after Bendo. Let’s take a look at all the fighters that are “in the mix” as the UFC boss likes to say. Anthony Pettis is facing Joe Lauzon at the same UFC 144 card. Although Pettis holds a win over Henderson and was the former WEC lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard’s draw to start 2011, coupled with a defeat in a highly entertaining and competitive fight with Clay Guida, lost him his shot at the UFC strap. In my mind, wins over Jeremy Stephens and Joe Lauzon aren’t enough to book him another one; he’ll need at least one more solid name even if he beats Lauzon in “Showtime” fashion. Lauzon can stake claim himself if he beats Pettis on the card. Lauzon derailed the Melvin Guillard bandwagon in under a minute at UFC 136, and Guillard was considered to be close to a title shot at that point. However, with recent loses to Sam Stout and George Sotiropolous on his resume, if he does beat Pettis in Japan I think he also will need at least one more win to justify a shot at the gold. Donald Cerrone was on an absolute tear, but he just lost to Nate Diaz. Diaz beat “Cowboy” and previously blew through Takanori Gomi much easier than his brother did, but that was coming off two straight loses at welterweight. He needs one or two more. Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard are headlining the first UFC on FX card, but even though it will undoubtedly be a fun fight to watch, both of them are coming off loses in their last bouts. One beating the other does not warrant a title shot. So as you can see, while the fights have been great in the lightweight division, they haven’t been very conducive to producing a top contender.

Honestly…what’s left in Strikeforce for Melendez? - There are a lot of high caliber lightweights outside the UFC, and Melendez has beaten most of them in Strikeforce. He battered Japanese stars Mitsuhiro Ishida and Tatsuya Kawajiri to 145lbs, avenged his loss to Josh Thomson in impressive fashion, easily dispatched solid veterans Rodrigo Damm and Jorge Masvidal, and made Shinya Aoki look like an amateur when Aoki was actually trying. So, who’s left for Gilbert? The winner of KJ Noons vs. Josh Thomson? Noons has great boxing, but I think Melendez would use clinch work, dirty boxing, and his aggressive ground attack to neutralize and batter Noons. He’s already proven he has what it takes to beat Thomson, and while a 3rd fight would be fun, I don’t feel like it’s necessary. Eddie Alvarez? No word on if he’s even available, but if he is, it doesn’t make sense to give him an immediate title shot coming off a loss, even if it has the potential for fireworks (and believe me it does, Eddie just needs to get back on track with a few wins). Plus, if he is a free agent, why wouldn’t you just sign him to the UFC? Gray Maynard? As far as moving guys over from the UFC to Strikeforce, this would make the most sense since his saga with Edgar is over for now. He is a top three lightweight who has the potential to give Melendez a lot of fits. But therein lies the problem, why would you pluck a top three guy from your premier organization to fight in the “minor” leagues? Sure, The Bully may not be getting a shot at Edgar again anytime soon, but if Maynard can get another impressive streak of wins under his belt, I for one wouldn’t mind seeing a 4th fight with Edgar. Let’s not forget that the series is 1-1-1 right now, the last two being Fight of the Year candidates. This is why Melendez should cross over and fight for the UFC title as soon as possible. It would give the UFC division the time it needs to sort itself out, and Melendez can’t get much hotter right now in Strikeforce. Dana, you were so good to us in 2011…please, please pull one more rabbit out of the hat to start 2012.

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