Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez will likely walk right into a UFC Lightweight championship fight when he makes his Octagon debut in 2013, which is a familiar assurance fight fans -- and Anthony Pettis -- have heard before from the UFC president.
Little more than two years ago, Anthony Pettis leapt and sprung off the cage, delivering the spectacular "Showtime Kick" that would clinch his victory over Ben Henderson, win the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) Lightweight belt and earn him and immediate Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title shot.
What a fucking night! Not so fast.
Three weeks later, Pettis sat ringside at UFC 125, watching the rematch between 155-pound kingpin, Frankie Edgar, as he looked to avenge his first-ever mixed martial arts (MMA) loss to Gray Maynard. "Showtime" was celebrated by the ringside announcers before and during the championship clash and his highlight-real kick was replayed for the fight fans who missed it and/or couldn't wait to see it again.
Pettis, at the time, was seemingly the man of the hour. And it appeared that he would walk into the fight of his life against Maynard after the "Bully" beat the snot out of Edgar early in their five-round main event. But, Edgar somehow survived, roared back and evened up the scorecards to push a draw.
It was the worst possible outcome for Pettis.
That's because Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White called for an immediate rematch, which wouldn't actually come to fruition until nine months later. As a result, Pettis was pressed into non-title action, his "immediate" UFC title shot promise dashed. His situation was only made worse when he agreed to make his Octagon debut opposite Clay Guida, a smothering wrestling-minded caveman who never lets his foot off the gas.
Pettis would go on to lose a unanimous decision to "The Carpenter" at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13 Finale that night in Las Vegas, Nevada. The good news is that he's racked up back-to-back wins since the setback, including a sensation finish of top division threat of Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 in early 2012. Pettis is now poised to finally cash-in his title shot stub, he just needs to defeat Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 6 next month to punch his number one contender ticket once again.
Not so fast.
White recently insinuated after the UFC 155 pre-fight press conference that Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez could have the inside track on the next crack at UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson. It wasn't a flat-out guarantee, but his message is certainly sending mixed signals to the top 155--pound contenders.
"We'll see, but we'll probably bring him in and give him a title shot," White said in regard to the UFC debut of Melendez.
Most fight fans wouldn't bat a lash under normal circumstances -- Melendez is a fantastic talent and has been ranked among the division's best for years. However, he has plied his trade primarily under the Strikeforce banner and overseas in Japan. "El Nino," therefore, needs to replicate his success inside the Octagon to truly earn "elite" status.
It now seems like a foregone conclusion with the collapse of Strikeforce and its best fighters being folded into the UFC fray in 2013. And if the decision is up to White -- and it usually is -- it may come sooner rather than later, especially if that troublesome shoulder injury that has sidelined Melendez in recent months miraculously heals on Jan. 18, 2012, which is the day after the final Strikeforce event.
Poor, poor Pettis.