Based on recent statements from UFC President Dana White it seems as though Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez is on a fast-track to the Octagon. He’s considered by most to be one of the top two lightweights in the world and could notch a sixth straight win this weekend with a victory over Jorge Masvidal in San Diego at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal.
However, even if he is successful (far from a given considering his opponent’s abilities), Melendez might actually be better suited for a continued run in Strikeforce rather than a call up to the “big show” as it were. From a short-sighted standpoint, sure, the 29-year old is absolutely ready for the UFC from a skills perspective and deserving of the opportunity given his past performances. But looking long term, if the UFC is truly invested in seeing Strikeforce prosper now that an agreement with Showtime has been worked out, keeping Melendez around makes much more sense than shipping him up to possibly become a big fish in a deep pond filled with a few sharks.
One of the reasons the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL grew into the powerhouse sporting organizations they are today has to do with rivalry. The Super Bowl dates back to the AFL/NFL battling it out 45 years ago and to this day it is played between the AFC/NFC conference champions. Even WWE split itself into two brands and for a time saw the company’s chokehold on the professional wrestling industry falter temporarily with the emergence of WCW. Or, on a smaller scale, the largest buyrates seem to come from main events featuring both personal and professional conflict.
It seems the UFC’s best bet at this point, especially with PPV numbers fading some, is to eventually turn Strikeforce into the rival promotion it had the potential of being a few years ago. As such, Melendez needs to be one of the key building blocks to that occurring based on his tenure in the company and status as a highly-ranked Mixed Martial Artist. It might take two years but the possibility is there to create an AFL to the UFC’s NFL and have one truly epic super-show once every twelve months in, oh say….early February as they already do on an annual basis?
With athletes under contract like Melendez, Mo Lawal, Gegard Mousasi, Luke Rockhold, KJ Noons, Justin Wilcox, Daniel Cormier, Ronaldo Souza, Tim Kennedy, Rafael Cavalcante, Ovince St. Preux, and others, as well as what should be an extremely competitive female bantamweight division come 2012, Zuffa can use their marketing might and grip on the industry to inject some real life back into Strikeforce and infuse it with UFC talent when necessary. For example, take a fighter like Krzysztof Soszynski who has some name value but is more or less a gatekeeper in the UFC, then put him up against Lawal or “Feijao”. It would give Soszynski a chance to shine in Strikeforce or Lawal/Cavalcante to allow the Strikeforce-based 205er build his reputation up off the TUF alumnus’ notoriety, plus it would create a match-up the casual fan might be interested in checking out.
Once a system is in place to create relevant pairings featuring known fighters and real attention is committed to fostering Strikeforce’s growth, Zuffa can then consider the Super Bowl of MMA with inter-promotional pairings and one huge hurrah putting a UFC champion against a Strikeforce champion in a non-title bout with some sort of desirable prize on the line like a $500,000 bonus (otherwise known as James Toney money). It almost makes too much sense not to do so long as the dedication is there…and so is Melendez, at least where the Strikeforce roster is concerned.
What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!
PHOTO CREDIT – STRIKEFORCE