To some fight fans, you don't need a belt around your waist to signify you're the best fighter in your weight class.
At least not in the eyes of Gilbert Melendez supporters.
"El Nino" went punch for punch -- or at least tried to -- against current Ultimate Fighting Championship (UC) Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson at UFC on FOX 7 a few weeks ago in a bout that marked Gilbert's debut for the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion.
After 25 minutes of hard-fought action, Melendez came up short in his bid to dethrone "Smooth" from the top of the 155-pound mountain, losing a razor-thin split decision to Henderson in San Jose, California. And while Henderson is currently the one with the strap around his waist, Melendez may still the best 155-pound fighter in the world.
Because the former Strikeforce champ "thumped" his foe early and often and tried to make it a toe-to-toe fight while Henderson was only looking to get in, score some points, and get out as fast as possible.
Melendez breaks it down to Bleacher Report:
"Sometimes I feel like that belt should be with me right now. Sometimes it actually makes it a little bit harder knowing that everyone thinks I did win. It does feel good. I think a lot of the people that do think I won still feel I'm the best lightweight in the world. Maybe not the champ, but still the best lightweight in the world right now. When I did attack, I had intentions to make it a fight. I believe when he attacked, it was to score points and to flee as quick as possible. He had some good leg kicks. A lot of people tell me I didn't do enough and I just ask what did he do? What did he really do? I felt like I thumped him a lot. I felt like I was under control the whole time."
The loss snapped the "Skrap Pack" member's seven-fight win streak and will likely force Melendez to rack up a few wins before he gets another shot at the title.
Not wanting to sit and sulk, "El Nino" is ready to get back into the Octagon, declaring he wants to face "whoever is hot" at the moment, as long as it's not a familiar face.
What say you, did Melendez push the pace a bit more than "Smooth" in San Jose? Belts aside, is Gilbert the best 155-pound fighter walking the planet? Or will that title elude him until he actually captures UFC gold?