It very recently came to light that Gilbert Melendez would be coming back to the UFC after signing an offer sheet with Bellator. I admit that I was very happy to hear this not because I am one of those fans believes the UFC can do no wrong. I was happy to hear this due to the fact that the UFC is where the top MMA talent in the world compete and Melendez no doubt deserves to be competing with the best. In fact, I was happy to see that Melendez was talking with Bellator due to the fact that competition is always a good thing. It forces companies to push themselves to create the best possible product for fans. The best example I can think of is the WWE Attitude Era when they were trying to (and eventually succeeded in) run WCW out of business. Since WWE was able to buy out WCW, they haven't had any serious competition and the product is stale in comparison to what it once was. I realize that the competition is different seeing as how wrestling is scripted, but it does create a scenario where fighters know if they perform well they will get paid, even if they aren't going to get paid by the company they are with. Thus, they want to impress rather than be resigned to getting whatever contract comes from the top (and only) dog if there is no competition.
Now that I have gone off on a tangent, I'll pull it back together.
Once I saw that Melendez was going to be coaching against Anthony Pettis for the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, my heart sank. Why? Many reasons.
- There goes the potential superfight between Jose Aldo and Pettis. Who didn't want to see that?
- The potential to refresh the featherweight division similar to how the welterweight division feels fresh with GSP's absence. Often times a new champ generates new interest.
- The lightweight belt will not be defended for well over a year since Pettis took it last August.
- It will be over a year before Melendez fights again as well (last October was his last fight) and eliminates many potentially fun matches he could be involved in (Khabib, Cerrone, Grant if he ever gets healthy). I realize that Khabib and Cerrone have matches coming up, but if they were to win they would likely have enough time to fight Melendez before he is scheduled to fight Pettis at this point.
What would I have preferred? I don't want to say that Melendez doesn't deserve a title shot. He is a great talent no doubt and if there is anyone who deserves one in the UFC at lightweight without any further matches being made, I would say Melendez. (I did say at lightweight... I would still prefer to see Aldo jump up though) But I would have liked to have seen him win at least one more match. His fight with Benson Henderson was extremely close... to the point that no one can definitively claim who won the fight. As a result, I'm fine with Henderson emerging as the victor. No again mention the wrestling industry and quote Ric Flair "To be the man, you got to beat the man." Melendez didn't beat the man. So coming off of that loss, I would like to think that a victory over a past-his-prime Diego Sanchez isn't quite enough to warrant another shot at the title.
Off of that last tangent... damn it I gotta stop that!
Considering that one of the things that helps create hype for matches is high stakes. By making the title match already, it eliminates the possibility to create a potential winner-coaches-against-Pettis match. I'm well aware that there aren't any real candidates to set up that match. Khabib? Language barrier. Cerrone? As bad as Pettis beat him, no one wants to see that match again even if a fight with Melendez sounds like it would be fun. Grant? Still has the concussions. Rafael dos Anjos? Another language barrier issue. I know he can speak English, but he isn't that marketable either. Benson Henderson? While the match with Melendez might be sellable, who wants to see Henderson and Pettis again at this point? But damn it, make it anyway! I want to see the best fighters fight as often as possible and Melendez is one of the best!
I'm sure that Melendez dictated that he get the title match as part of re-signing with the UFC as opposed to going to Bellator, so I completely understand why its happening. Coaching on TUF will do wonders for profile too, so I could see that being part of the negotiations as well. I'm not mad at Melendez at all. I don't blame the guy for doing what is best for him. I'd do the same thing if I was him. But it does create a bummer of a situation for the lightweight division and fans in general.