At this point, you couldn’t blame Gilbert Melendez if he feels a little like a guy whose parole has been denied.
Melendez’s dream of making his UFC debut seemed tantalizingly close just a few short weeks ago, back when it looked like Strikeforce wouldn’t live to see the new year and the fighter himself would vault into the Octagon after one final hurdle against Jorge Masvidal on Saturday.
Yeah, not so fast.
When Dana White confirmed to reporters last weekend that Showtime has indeed picked up its option to continue airing Strikeforce through 2012, he simultaneously appeared to condemn the organization’s lightweight champion and the No. 2-ranked 155-pound fighter on the planet to a life in continued limbo. But at least he did it on a positive note.
“Gilbert Melendez and all the guys that are in the Strikeforce show and with Showtime, I will make fights [for them]. They will be happy to be there,” White said following the UFC 140 press conference. “Believe me, I got this thing worked out. It's going to be good for everybody. It's going to be good for the fighters, it's going to be good for Showtime, and it's going to be good for Strikeforce.”
It will obviously take a considerable influx of new talent into Strikeforce to make an extended stay there good for Melendez. After fighting on the organization’s first show back in 2006, he’s become something of a lifer, putting together two runs with the lightweight title, while defeating most every challenger that has come his way.
It’s tempting to say Melendez summarily outgrew Strikeforce while going 5-0 there since 2009. Of course, that was the old Strikeforce. How the new one – the one ostensibly run by White – will look moving forward is anyone’s best guess.
Might the UFC stoop to send some of its better known talent — guys the caliber of, say, Melvin Guillard, Evan Dunham or Jim Miller – to Strikeforce in the name of making things more competitive for Melendez? Might it pursue what few credible challengers are still fighting in other organizations, ala Bellator’s Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler? Will it try to feed Melendez a few fights in an attempt to build a high-profile unification bout with UFC champ Frankie Edgar?
Anything is possible, though perhaps only the last of those options feels like it would make real sense for the UFC.
If nothing else, we know Melendez will get a stiff but far from insurmountable test this weekend from the relatively unheralded Masivdal. The challenger made a name for himself appearing on the same underground street fight videos as Kimbo Silce, but his legitimate MMA career actually dates back to 2003. After an fairly unsuccessful run at welterweight at 2010, he earned his title shot by taking out heir apparent K.J. Noons in June.
Masvidal gives every impression of being a solid and well-rounded fighter. Is he on the level of Melendez? Conventional wisdom says no, but Masividal gets the chance to prove us wrong this weekend.
For Melendez, the stakes became a lot less clear in the last week. If he wins, he’ll get to keep his Strikeforce title, but we still won’t know exactly what that means until we get a look at the revamped product next year.
Until then, or until the UFC decides what to do with him, he’ll remain in purgatory.