Just looking over the inventory of possible lightweights to contend for Frankie Edgar’s belt, it came down to three names -- Gilbert Melendez, Clay Guida and Ben Henderson. That much was obvious on Saturday after Melvin Guillard fell through a hatch.
Yet, just as Melendez was getting some legs behind his campaign for the shot, Strikeforce -- of all entities! -- announced that the originally planned Jorge Masvidal fight would indeed happen on Dec. 17, just like it told us all along (tentatively, written in pencil on a piece of driftwood for everyone to see).
This was a big buzzkill for unificationists. Realistically, though, all is as it should be.
Melendez would have made -- and one day will make -- for an intriguing bout against Edgar. You’ve got the velvet rope coming down between champions, the clash of styles, East Coast versus West Coast, El Nino threatening the Jersey Shore, all of that. But right now Guida/Bendo are wearing promise rings. And if we’re talking in terms of merit, no matter which guy emerges from Nov. 12 with the victory, why, he’ll have that too.
Through no fault of his own, you’d have to jog your memory to recollect Melendez’s last fight in April. He beat Tatsuya Kawajiri at the 3:14 mark of the first round. It was a reunion with his elbows, and it was very impressive -- but that means for 2011, Melendez has fought for a very impressive three minutes and change. He fought just once in 2009, too, a five-round unanimous decision over Shinya Aoki.
Those are solid wins, but what Melendez picked up in quality he loses in quantity. Had he been booked sooner than Dec. 17, as was threatened by Strikeforce on numerous occasions, things might be different.
Guida and Henderson will each fight in their third bout of 2011 when they meet. Guida got through Anthony Pettis (the No. 1 contender at the time) and Takanori Gomi; Henderson beat Jim Miller (the No. 1 contender at the time) and Mark Bocek.
Since they both eliminated the top contender at a time when the lightweight division was being held up for ransom, they have to fight each other. The man that emerges in that fight will have traveled a long, long way to get there -- through limbos, through dimly lit passageways, through a gauntlet of guys the UFC could muster. During that time, Melendez’s biggest battle has been against ennui. He should defend his belt one more time for old time's sake because, let's face it, that belt will soon become theoretical anyway.
It's guaranteed Melendez gets on a more regular schedule with the UFC after Masvidal. And speaking of Masvidal -- the Pluto figure in "who’s next for Edgar debate" -- didn’t he beat down K.J. Noons with a vague promise that his next fight would be for the Strikeforce belt? That was in June, when things with Strikeforce were already in the advanced stages of vague. He deserves his chance to do what Guida did to Pettis, what Henderson did to Miller, and what Joe Lauzon just did to Guillard.
That is, make this whole debate laughable.