Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez has three fights left on his Strikeforce contract.
Dave Meltzer created a firestorm yesterday when he reported that a deal between Zuffa and Showtime will keep select Strikeforce fighters out of the UFC for the time being. This was a stipulation of Showtime extending their television contract with Zuffa to keep Strikeforce on the air, and could last anywhere from about nine months to almost three years, or possibly even longer if a new deal is signed. The list of fighters wasn't released, but it likely includes the top talent in the promotion including Gilbert Melendez and Luke Rockhold.
The immediate reaction to the news wasn't all that surprising - people were mad, and they overreacted. "The fighters are getting screwed!" "This has to be illegal!" It's a little early to jump to conclusions though. Even if we take everything Meltzer said at face value (Dana White is already denying Meltzer's statements), we simply don't know enough about the situation, and what we do know really isn't all that terrible
Back in December of last year, it was all but assumed that Strikeforce was dead in the water and any hope of an extension between Zuffa and Showtime seemed lost. Then one day (December 15th), the stars aligned and a much-needed deal was made. Zuffa was able to keep other MMA organizations off the network, and Showtime was able to continue airing cheap, profitable live sports. Concessions were made on both sides to get the deal done, and Showtime reportedly wanted some assurances that the guys they were promoting wouldn't be lifted by the UFC when the opportunity came up. Zuffa reportedly agreed, and everyone got what they wanted. Except for a few fighters, of course.
So now we're left with a small collection of fighters that can't choose to go to the UFC for an undetermined period of time. Yes, this apparent deal between the Zuffa and Showtime didn't require their consent, and the game changed right under their feet. But the idea that they're potentially stuck on Showtime forever, or that they've lost all semblance of control over their own careers is overblown. And all of these fighters are at least partially at fault for the situation they find themselves in right now.
Let's not forget that almost every single one of these fighters (save Ronda Rousey) has had the opportunity to sign with the UFC at some point. They chose Strikeforce instead. "King" Muhammed Lawal complained that he had no choice but to sign an extension with SF in January. Well he did have a choice back in October 2009 when he originally signed. He took a calculated risk by picking the smaller, less-secure (but higher-paying) option back then, and it didn't end up paying off. Welcome to the world of business.
Gilbert Melendez took the same risk when he signed a six-fight extension last year. Sure, it might suck to see some of your contemporaries (Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem) get brought over to the UFC while you're left out. But he signed a six-fight deal, so he should expect to fight six times in Strikeforce. I'm sure the 175 grand he made for his last fight (which is more than any UFC lightweight makes in base salary) can help alleviate some of the anger, which is presumably a major part of why he took the SF deal in the first place.
Besides that though, there are a few other points that people seem to be glossing over. Simply put, no one knows how long the Zuffa/Showtime deal will last, but the signs aren't pointing at a long and fruitful collaboration. And many of these guys have a lot of fights left on their Strikeforce deals anyway. Melendez has three, for example. With Strikeforce only running eight cards a year and Melendez just recently competing, he probably won't get his last fight until the end of 2013. That's a long time before this even becomes an issue for him, and many things could change by then.
In the end though, this really comes down to what all business deals always come down to - money. If the UFC wants a Strikeforce fighter that bad, they'll have to pay up to wrest control of him/her away from Showtime. If anyone honestly thinks that Gilbert Melendez will be forced to re-sign with Strikeforce if his deal did expire, you're dreaming. Zuffa will pay. Showtime was just doing what they needed to do to protect their interests by asking for this stipulation, and I think it was a smart business move. If a few fighters get caught in the crossfire, well - thems the breaks. The truth of the matter is painful, but true - these fighters gambled by signing with Strikeforce, and they might have potentially lost for the time being. The key word being "might".