Gilbert Melendez was a big winner Saturday at Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley. Photo by Esther Lin/Strikeforce
We're just removed from Saturday's electric "Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley" card from San Diego, Calif., and it's time to take a look at what should be next for the winners from the three main card fights that had a winner. Of course, Gegard Mousasi and Keith Jardine drew, and it wouldn't be shocking to see those two rematch sometime down the line. For the rest of them, here's what I'd do if I were the matchmaker:
Nick Diaz — Diaz won his 10th straight fight Saturday, stopping Paul Daley with strikes in the first round to retain his Strikeforce welterweight championship. Of those 10 wins, Diaz has won nine of them by stoppage, and is really hitting his stride as he enters the prime of his athletic career. It'll be curious to see what Strikeforce is going to do with Diaz here. If the company hadn't been bought by Zuffa, the obvious fight would be with Tyron Woodley. That's about all there is at this point. That was a completely acceptable fight given the state of Strikeforce's welterweight division before. Now, though, there's that little dangling carrot of potential fights with UFC fighters hanging there for everyone to see. That's going to continue to cloud everyone's judgment until this charade is finally over and everything is folded into one company. It's a real tough fight for Woodley. Diaz is still improving and is actually younger than Woodley despite have oodles and oodles more experience. At this point, it pretty much has to be Woodley for Diaz unless Strikeforce signs someone else for the slot.
Gilbert Melendez — This much is clear to me after watching Melendez dismantle Tatsuya Kawajiri: "El Nino" has completely outgrown Strikeforce. As is the case with Diaz, we have this dangling carrot to deal with Melendez as well. Don't get me wrong, I want to see Diaz fight against the UFC guys, too, but out of everyone in Strikeforce, Melendez is the guy I want to see in the UFC. He has absolutely nothing left to prove in Strikeforce. He's won five in a row, knocking out both Rodrigo Damm and Mitsuhiro Ishida, taking dominant decisions against Josh Thomson and Shinya Aoki and then brutalizing Kawajiri. What's left? Sure, I guess I wouldn't be completely offended if he fought K.J. Noons or Jorge Masvidal, but in my opinion, looking at where Melendez stacks up in his division, he is Strikeforce's best fighter. That's why I want to see him in the UFC so bad. The UFC lightweight division is so competitive and Melendez brings such a great skill set to the table. At this point, I'd favor him over Gray Maynard and have him at even money with Frankie Edgar. Those are sick fights. Do we need to see him rematch Aoki? Absolutely not. Anything outside of moving to the UFC is just treading water at this point. So let's go ahead and get him his next fight against God only knows who and then get him into the Octagon ASAP.
Shinya Aoki — Well, Aoki came out and did exactly what he needed to do: Have a dominant performance and pick up a much-needed win in America. Lyle Beerbohm was the perfect opponent for him and he can through with a vintage Aoki win. Now, here's the kicker with this one — Scott Coker mentioned Aoki was only under contract for two fights and this Beerbohm fight was the second. So it's anyone's guess as to what will happen with Aoki, but I'm sure Strikeforce would love to have him back. For the sake of this column, let's say he resigns. With that out of the way, Coker has to figure out exactly what he wants to do with Aoki. If you want him to work back to a title shot, he has to fight either Masvidal, Thomson or Noons. Other interesting options include Pat Healy, Justin Wilcox or Jorge Gurgel. I'm not sure I'd throw Wilcox in there with Aoki quite yet (in fact, I'd go Wilcox and Masvidal, and Coker has mentioned as much). So that leaves Noons to fight Melendez and either Thomson, Healy or Gurgel to fight Aoki. You never know about Thomson's health, so it's tough to count on anything there, but if the timing's right and he can go, he's the guy.