Gilbert Melendez must move to UFC after Josh Thomson trilogy match

Jason Probst argues that the last remaining, meaningful fight for Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez (L) is a third, defining bout against Josh Thomson (R).

After grinding out a ho-hum unanimous decision over K.J. Noons last night (March 3, 2012) at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, Josh Thomson may have set the postfight interview record for S-bombs. Uttering four of them, he described his performance as "Sh*t," and it went downhill from there.

But even in an off night, Thomson, who'd been inactive for 15 months recovering from injuries, is still far and away the best challenger for Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez. The fact that he stands alone, despite considerable mileage on a body that seems to constantly betray him, says a lot about him and the rest of the Strikeforce 155-pound ranks.

For his part, Melendez has seemed content with not facing Thomson again after taking a decision in Dec. 2009 to knot their rivalry at one decision win apiece. Saturday night, Melendez, doing guest commentary with the broadcast team, appeared more receptive. It's good that Thomson was able to get the decision, because there's nobody remotely close to Melendez' level in the promotion.

Gilbert's improvement between the first and second Thomson bouts was considerable. His stand up has evolved to the point where he can hang with good strikers on the feet, and Thomson's talented, but vulnerable body, may well have seen their best days.

They'll make for a rousing rubber match, but who else is there?

Noons is somewhere between a fringe top-20 lightweight and an opponent living off the shine of his Elite XC days and a cut stoppage win over Nick Diaz; Pat Healy is serviceable journeyman, and he took out Caros Fodor on the card, who was a rising prospect in the Strikeforce ranks.

For all intents and purposes, it appears that after Thomson-Melendez III, the champ (assuming he defends successfully) won't have many dance partners to make for interesting fights. Of course, we were also saying the same thing about Eddie Alvarez in Bellator before Michael Chandler upset him and upended the entire division in that promotion.

A lot of things can happen in a fight, but Melendez' consistency over the long haul suggest that it might be a good move to transition him to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight division. He's in his prime, turning 30 in April, and with the depth of the UFC 155-pounders, it'd be a shame for "El Nino" to spend the next couple years fighting long shot underdogs at the peak of his talents.

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