It's almost to the point where you feel like you should feel sorry for Gilbert Melendez. Almost.
The Strikeforce lightweight champion has been languishing in the second tier promotion as one of the most talented 155-pound fighters on Earth. He'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future, too.
Tonight (Sat., May 19, 2012), he defends his title against an old rival, Josh Thomson, in the co-main event of the Strikeforce: "Barnett vs. Cormier" fight card set to go down on Showtime from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.
That's part of why sympathy seems prudent. This is the third fight between these two and while they've split the first two meetings, their careers have gone on entirely different trajectories since they last met back in Dec. 2009. Melendez has been dominant, destroying Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Jorge Masvidal, respectively.
He's been so good, in fact, that UFC President Dana White started speaking openly about bringing him over to swim with the sharks inside the Octagon. But that talk suddenly stopped, for reasons that were never made apparent, and "El Nino" has been stuck in Strikeforce ever since.
And that means he's at the mercy of the talent pool available outside the UFC, which, in short, is quite shallow.
Thomson is no can, don't mistake that. He's a former Strikeforce lightweight champion and he does own a victory over Melendez, although it came all the way back in 2008.
That said, his 3-1 record since his loss to Melendez in the rematch is a tad misleading.
Sure, he submitted Pat Healy with a rear-naked choke and looked extremely impressive considering the fact that he had broken two ribs early in the contest. But it went downhill from there. He was awarded a unanimous decision victory over Gesias Cavalcante that some would argue should have gone the other way. He followed that up by losing to Tatsuya Kawajiri before turning in an uninspired performance against K.J. Noons. He won a decision in that fight but his win hardly inspired confidence that he was ready to take on Melendez to complete their trilogy.
Nonetheless, because of Strikeforce's dwindling roster, this is what we're left with. Melendez, one of the most talented lightweights in the world, giving out undeserved rematches.
He signed a contract to stay in San Jose, so it's difficult to feel too sorry for the man. But it's difficult not to wonder how well he would do in the UFC if given the opportunity.
A loss tonight could go a long ways toward changing that ... and not in a good way.