This weekend Gilbert Melendez hopes to defend his lightweight title against Jorge Masvidal in San Diego. As with every event Zuffa held a phone conference for the media to ask questions of the fighters. One talking point that Gilbert couldn't escape was his desire to fight in the UFC. He went as far as saying that he believes he'll be in the UFC soon and that talks are on-going to bring him to the "major league" of MMA. He continued his praise of Masvidal as a legitimate opponent but was open about his view that there were no longer any competitive match ups in Strikeforce after Saturday night.
Just this week it was finally confirmed that Zuffa will continue to run the Strikeforce product and that it will still air on Showtime. Negotiations between Zuffa and Showtime stalled when the broadcasting partner believed that Zuffa acted in bad faith by signing Strikeforce champions away from the promotion. There is a new deal in place and a major sticking point is that Strikeforce fighters will remain in Strikeforce. Gilbert Melendez will be the sole champion not signed to the UFC. The big question is can he remain relevant in top 10 talks without ever fighting in the UFC?
Melendez missed his window. According to the USA Today/MMA Nation rankings, there are two lightweights in the top 25 besides Melendez and he fights one of them on Saturday. The other is Josh Thompson. In fact, 19 of the top 25 lightweights call the UFC home. Following the fight with Masvidal, is it even possible for Melendez to remain relevant in a division that that calls the UFC home?
The lightweight landscape changes after every event and with Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar squaring off in Japan, it's safe to say that Melendez can't continue to be ranked in the top 5 without another top 10 win. There are rumors that Zuffa may start sending UFC fighters to Strikeforce in 2012 to create new match ups in stagnant divisions. However, the issue for Melendez is that no matter who the UFC sends, they won't be top 10 lightweights nor will they be proven draws. Melendez is in MMA purgatory and there is no escape in sight. With the portal to the UFC effectively closed due to renegotations, Melendez is slowly becoming a fighter like Eddie Alvarez, a top talent who isn't fighting people that can truly push him up the rankings.
Melendez will face Masvidal this weekend but will it even matter? All this talk of finally fighting in the UFC is now a moot point. Dream fights with Edgar and Maynard surely won't happen and he'd never fight against Ben Henderson who shares the same representation. Gilbert Melendez is slowly going the way of the dinosaurs in a company that won't invest in signing top lightweights to challenge for his belt. Even his title is viewed as a number two with the UFC lightweight belt regarded as the true champion of the division. Hopefully this weekend we'll see the best Gil Melendez because if we don't, I'm not sure we'll ever get the chance to see him against another top tiered talent.