Opening Round: Who Can Weather “El Nino”?

With Gilbert Melendez slated to be sticking around Strikeforce for the foreseeable future and Jorge Masvidal freshly bumped to the back of the line, the question many are now wondering (including “El Nino”) relates to who is next for the ever-impressive 155-pound champion. The organization’s roster is thin enough at the top to even have Melendez wondering if his bosses at Zuffa will bring the UFC to him, or at least one of their lightweight contenders, since he won’t be competing in the Octagon just yet.

Below you’ll find a list of five potential challengers for Melendez’s divisional throne, a few of whom are almost certainly destined to stand opposite from the 20-2 Californian at some point in 2012…

Josh Thomson

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker brought Thomson’s name up after Saturday night’s event in hopes of eventually booking the conclusion to their trilogy. However, “The Punk” didn’t fight a single time in 2011 due to injury and came up short against Tatsuya Kawajiri the last time he stepped foot in the ring. Fortunately for Thomson the loss occurred in DREAM while he holds wins over Pat Healy and J.Z. Cavalcante in his last two Strikeforce fights. As such he could easily find himself slotted into a “rubber match” if he can pick up a relevant victory on a Strikeforce card, though let’s face it – Thomson would be little more than a sacrificial lamb with some history attached in the grand scheme of things as the 33-year old is no longer on Melendez’s level.

Jorge Masvidal

If Masvidal can pick up two wins I could see him getting another shot at Melendez based on the lack of options currently signed to Strikeforce. Something against Cavalcante would be a good first step. Beyond that, their bout this past weekend was competitive, especially if factoring in Masvidal’s allegedly injured hand, and I could see “Gamebred” performing better without the butterflies of it being his first fight in the headlining spotlight. All-in-all I’m definitely interested in a rematch as long as Masvidal actually earns it.

K.J. Noons

I’m fairly certain Noons vs. Melendez is the fight Strikeforce was hoping to make before Masvidal played the role of spoiler by beating over the summer. There’s a bit of history involved given Noons’ rivalry with Nick Diaz in relation to Melendez’s friendship with the former Strikeforce welterweight champ. Noons is also a marketable guy with some name value who has an exciting style, all factors working in his favor where a title-shot is concerned. His win over Billy Evangelista may have very well earned him the opportunity at Melendez already, but I’d personally prefer to see him face Healy to cement his contendership status. If he can deal with the grappling prowess and overall tenacity of the grizzled 155er it would go to show he might be able to hang with Melendez as well.

Eddie Alvarez

A stretch, yes, but Alvarez’s loss to Michael Chandler freed him up of the championship clause keeping him locked into his Bellator deal. I don’t know how many fights he has left on his contract but I’d wager he’ll be looking to up the ante by signing with the UFC or Strikeforce. Fans have wanted to see Alvarez vs. Melendez for a long time, and though Eddie’s loss to Chandler might have hurt the buzz a little he could still walk in tomorrow and earn a title-shot with a single Strikeforce victory. It would definitely be a great fight and one that could go either way.

Clay Guida

Melendez wants a UFC fighter so give him one. Guida is a perennial UFC contender even if he never gets over the hump. He also has some significant success and is recognizable to mainstream fans. He and Melendez also fought in 2006 for the Strikeforce lightweight title with “El Nino” narrowly edging Guida out with a Split Decision victory. Like Alvarez, all he would need is a single win in Strikeforce to be a believable challenger. A little sad, perhaps, but true.

What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!

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