Photo by Tracy Lee via Yahoo! Sports
"If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man."
That was the task that faced Strikeforce lightweight number one contender Jorge Masvidal as he took on 155-pound champion Gilbert Melendez at Strikeforce: "Melendez vs. Masvidal" last night (Dec. 17, 2011) from San Diego, California.
After five rounds of non-stop fists smashing against skulls, "El Nino" was able to come out on top and keep his belt. However, the shoe is now on the other foot, so to speak. Melendez wants to be "the man" at 155 pounds in mixed martial arts (MMA).
The problem? He fights for Strikeforce.
After the jump, we'll examine what's next for Melendez, as well as what he may need to do to be considered a legitimate contender for the number one lightweight in the world:
Rankings are overrated.
MMA fights don't happen on paper or on the Internet -- they happen in the cage. You can say a guy is better than another fighter up and down, but until the two square off in a ring of combat, all bets are off.
Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez has long been ranked near the top of the lightweight heap by almost every ranking system available. He also doesn't mind tooting his own horn.
After his victory last night, he challenged the best-of-the-best from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to come on over to Strikeforce and fight him in "his hexagon."
But, that's not going happen. Never.
Zuffa didn't purchase Strikeforce so it could ship the top fighters in the UFC over to Strikeforce. It also isn't interested in cross-promoting. If you believe otherwise, you clearly haven't paid attention to what has happened with Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum (just to name a few).
The harvesting has begun, in a big way. It's abundantly clear which way the filtering is going to occur, regardless of what Strikeforce President Scott Coker may tell you.
With that said, Melendez has two choices:
- Stay in Strikeforce and be a big fish in a small pond, continuing to risk a legacy on up-and-comers who most fight fans haven't heard of
- Be brave and do whatever he has to do to get into the Octagon
There's been much talk that if Melendez were to sign with the UFC, he would get an instant title shot. That may or may not be true, but that shouldn't matter. A fight for Melendez versus any of the UFC's top five lightweights would do unspeakably more for his career than a fight against anyone that Strikeforce has left to offer.
He has a big, multi-fight contract with Strikeforce, but do you really believe that's an issue?
The truth is that the UFC doesn't need him in a big way. Not right this second, anyway. Its 155-pound division is stacked. But, just wait until they have a big event featuring lightweights and someone gets hurt. Melendez will be there, waiting in the wings as a wonderful option for a fill-in.
The only question is: Does he respond to the call?
In my opinion, saying "yes" would be the only option. He's 29 years old. Not past his prime, by any stretch, but also not getting younger. If he's the best, he should want to prove it. And he's just not going to do that against the Joe Duarte's or Pat Healy's of the world (no disrespect, gentlemen).
What say you, Maniacs? Is it time for "El Nino" to make the move to the UFC, or are there still valid fights for him in Strikeforce?