On Saturday, May 5, Nate Diaz punched his ticket to a title fight against the winner of the upcoming bout between current UFC lightweight champion and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. However, if one were to listen to Diaz, it seems as if he holds one lightweight fighter in higher regard than either of his possible opponents. That fighter is Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.
After becoming the first man in 25 professional bouts to finish Jim Miller, Diaz stood in the middle of the Octagon and told Joe Rogan, “I try to be No. 1 in this world; there’s only person above all of us and that’s Gilbert ‘El Nino’ Melendez, the true world champion lightweight.”
While many MMA rankings, including Bleacher Report’s, don’t agree with Diaz’s assessment, they do see Melendez as top three in the lightweight division. Despite many seeing Melendez as one of the best at 155 pounds, BJ Penn opted not to face the reigning Strikeforce champion when offered the opportunity by UFC president Dana White.
Penn spoke about the offer on the most recent edition of The MMA Hour, saying:
It was right after the Nick Diaz fight. He offered me a fight against Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce. We sat down, we thought about it for a little while and we fought back and forth and it was kind of one of those things where I guess at the end of the day we just thought about it a thousand different ways and we were like, is it downgrading yourself fighting in Strikeforce and if you win the Strikeforce title people are going to say you did it because you couldn't win the UFC title? We just kind of thought about it a thousand different ways and at the end of the day it just didn't make sense to us.
The logic here seems kind of odd, especially since the above statement came after Penn expressed the desire to once again become a world champion.
With a record of 1-3-1 in his last five fights, including two losses to the fighter that many rank one spot ahead of Melendez, Frankie Edgar, Penn should definitely not look at a fight against Melendez as a downgrade in competition. He should look at it for what it is: a shot at claiming what he desires, a world title. And if he were to claim that Strikeforce title, it’s not a stretch to think he would quickly find himself in the mix for a shot at the UFC lightweight title.
On the other hand, what if he lost? Is that where the real reluctance comes from in signing to fight Melendez? There would be no shame in losing to a competitor like Melendez, a man that many believe could step right into the UFC and contend for a title. Yes, there would be some that would say a loss to a fighter outside the UFC would be proof Penn is nearing the end of his career, but those voices would surely be in the minority.
For his part, Melendez is currently scheduled to defend his title on May 19 against the last man to defeat him, Josh Thomson. Thomson claimed a unanimous decision victory over Melendez in 2008 but was defeated by Melendez in a December 2009 rematch.
If Melendez can defeat Thomson in their rubber match and hold onto his title, perhaps Penn will reconsider the opportunity to possibly add another title to his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
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