Following another impressive performance Saturday night, against yet another formidable challenger, Strikeforce lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Gilbert 'El Nino' Melendez finds himself in quite a strange place. Is he 'King of the Hill' or is he stuck in purgatory? Arguably the number one lightweight in the world and easily one of the top ten pound for pound fighters as well, you would think there is no question, but there is. That is because Melendez finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Being a champion at any level is a great accomplishment, whether it is as an amateur or as a professional at a small regional promotion. Thus, being a Strikeforce champion is nothing to sneeze at, but there is always the stigma of not being a UFC champion; which is the pinnacle of Mixed Martial Arts by where all other fighters are measured. It may not be fair, and in some cases may not be accurate, but as the phrase says, "it is what it is."
Melendez (20-2, 11 KO's 1 sub) handled his business on Saturday night as he convincingly won a unanimous decision over very tough Jorge 'Gamebred' Masvidal. That gives him six straight victories in a row and the only two losses on his record he's avenged. However, when you compare the names of his last six opponents, with those of current UFC champion Frankie Edgar, there seems to be a definite drop in competition. They've all been good fighters, but outside of Shinya Aoki, who was ranked number two in the world at the time, they were not necessarily cream of the crop.
That is of no fault of 'El Nino' though; loyal to the end, he made his name through Strikeforce when the UFC, for some reason, wouldn't give him a look. However, now under the Zuffa banner that also owns the UFC, Strikeforce, which was always looked upon as second fiddle, is now looking more like a minor league or junior circuit. Nonetheless, because Strikeforce is now owned by Zuffa, everyone, including Melendez, just knew it was a matter of time before he found himself challenging for the coveted UFC title. The time was supposed to be now at the end of Strikeforce's cable TV deal with the Showtime network. "Not so fast my friends," as ESPN's Lee Corso would say.
It was recently announced that Strikeforce renewed their contract with Showtime, which quipped many people to ask why? I too was asking myself the same question, but after thinking about it clearly, it's simple; it's all about the Benjamin's. The UFC recently signed a major network television deal with FOX. However, Zuffa realizing that cable network money is just as green and valuable knew it had to keep its hand in that cookie jar as well. How do you do it without causing a conflict of interest? You keep Strikeforce as a separate brand; problem solved.
Great for Zuffa, but where does that leave Melendez? If I know UFC President Dana White, I wouldn't worry too much. He realizes he has quite a commodity in the Strikeforce champion, so I'm sure he'll do whatever he has to, both financially and competitively to keep Melendez happy. The lightweight division in the UFC is probably the deepest in the company; especially with the WEC merger last year; so I wouldn't be surprised if you saw some well known names and high caliber fighters make their way onto the Strikeforce roster.
Yet, that's not etched in stone and Melendez has all but cleaned out the cupboard bare. Therefore, till some more big name fighters make their way into Strikeforce, he'll just keep playing Russian roulette with his world ranking as former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez did before him and you see what that got him; a loss to a young hungry lion and more importantly a potential loss of big paydays. Thus, Melendez remains in purgatory and although he is King of the Hill in Strikeforce, that's almost like being Anthony Michael Hall's character was in the movie 'Sixteen Candles'; King of the Dipsh*ts!