For better or worse—and there are valid arguments to be made on both sides of the debate—the UFC has become the de facto professional mixed martial arts organization in the world today. This evolution has been one of acquisition, as it has bought or absorbed the WEC, WFA, Pride FC, (possibly) the IFL, Invicta FC, EliteXC and Strikeforce.
It was that Strikeforce deal that brought Gilbert Melendez to the UFC. While guys like BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson were taking turns ruling the UFC’s 155-pound division, Melendez was dominating Strikeforce’s lightweight division.
In 2006 Melendez claimed the organization’s title by out-pointing Clay Guida, but he wouldn’t make his first defense of the belt until 2008. He would only defend it successfully once before Josh Thomson scored a huge upset later in ’08, winning a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Melendez claimed the interim title after various leg and foot injuries forced Thomson out of a couple scheduled fights. Melendez would defend the interim strap once before gaining revenge over Thomson in 2009, winning his own unanimous decision.
Melendez established himself in some eyes as the best lightweight in the world after winning a decision over Japan’s Shinya Aoki, who was the champion of the DREAM organization and who himself was considered by some as the best lightweight in the world. When Penn lost to Edgar in 2010, Melendez appeared to be the best at 155.
But without a UFC belt, questions would always persist. Sure, he won fights in the WEC (actually, he won the inaugural belt there, before bolting the organization), Shooto and Pride, knocking off some of the elite Japanese mixed martial artists along the way. But as was becoming evident, Pride and WEC success did not mean that you would immediately enter into the UFC and remain dominant—quite the opposite, actually.
So the rift grew between the Melendez/pro-Japan/pro-Strikeforce crowd and the pro-UFC crowd. After Strikeforce was acquired in 2011, the dispute would be settled in the cage in 2013 after the organization was slowly merged into the UFC.
Melendez and Ben Henderson, who dethroned Edgar in 2012, met in a unification bout. Henderson won a hotly-disputed split decision. It would end up being as close as Melendez would ever get to becoming UFC lightweight champion and cementing his legacy as the greatest lightweight ever. Continue reading »