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Strikeforce: Melendez secures entrance into UFC

Gilbert Melendez (20-2) retained his Strikeforce lightweight title, and in the minds of his fans secured his entrance into the UFC with his defeat  Saturday of Jorge Masvidal (22-7).  UFC president Dana White will keep him in Strikeforce for now.

Melendez used superior striking to secure an otherwise unspectacular unanimous decision. It’s not certain, however, if Melendez could parlay a win streak outside the UFC into a name for himself inside.

In 2001 the UFC purchased Strikeforce, an upper-echelon second-tier promotion, a place for fighters who hadn’t made the UFC, who’d  been punted by the UFC, or who’d fought their way out of regional promotions but not into the UFC. The UFC has kept Strikeforce running, but the best fighters are being siphoned off, and it’s entirely possible that Strikeforce will be struck out before long.

It’s not as though Melendez has fought tomato cans throughout his career, but his best win to date is his split decision win in 2006 over Clay Guida, a current UFC fighter ranked in the top ten but nowhere near top five. Several bloggers and websites have Melendez ranked as high as #2, an assessment that is bogus until he’s fought in the UFC. Today, it doesn’t matter how many wins you’ve put together, if you haven’t fought in the UFC you’re relatively unproven.

In the early to mid-2000s, many thought Japan’s PRIDE better than the UFC. But that fight promotion collapsed when the owners, primarily Yakuza, funneled profits out, disabling it and allowing the UFC to purchase it and the contracts of many fighters. Even when former PRIDE fighters came to the UFC and became champions, such as Rampage Jackson and Mauricio Rua, they had challenging entrances into the Octagon and took time to acclimatize to the hype and adrenaline dumps that inevitably affect your game. And they couldn't remain champions. Mirko Cro Cop, a PRIDE standout, failed miserably in his UFC run (3-4).

Proof of this effect now is Jake Shields. The former 185 pound Strikeforce champion did extremely well there, even defeating Dan Henderson, a UFC standout who’d had contract scuffles with the UFC at the time. But in the UFC,  Shields couldn’t withstand his drop to 170 and his challenge of GSP’s welterweight title, then got KOed by Jake Ellenberger. Shields is 1-2 in the UFC, after going 15-0 dating back to 2005.         

The quality and variety of styles in all weight classes in the UFC means success relies upon the ability to excel at every aspect. To keep a belt you eventually need to beat most top fighters in the division. It’s not clear Melendez could do that.

Top fighters, like champion Frankie Edgar, the exceptionally tough wrestler Gray Maynard and the wickedly fast and technical Benson Henderson, who’ve all fought and done well in the UFC, are not being given props over Melendez, who needs to fight with the big boys before  the story is told.

If and when Melendez makes it to the big show, the smart money will be on him doing well and becoming a definite draw, but falling short in his title run.


Photo via twitter @Strikeforce

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