My colleague Thomas Myers believes that Gilbert Melendez is the right man to challenge Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight title. Melendez, Myers argues, has done all the right things, waited patiently, and now deserves his shot at the hallowed UFC title. Allow me to retort. Today, the UFC decided to let Melendez go forward with a scheduled Strikeforce bout with Jorge Masvidal. I think that was the right call. He needs that fight- and at least one more under the UFC banner, before he is a viable challenger for Edgar.
Gilbert Melendez is a very talented fighter. He possesses high level skills in wrestling and grappling. He's a potential threat to everyone in the division, a fighter with the tools to beat anyone across the cage from him. Is Melendez as good as the lightweights in the UFC? Possibly. But his true ceiling remains untested. While UFC stars were running a murderer's row of top talent, Melendez was facing opponents who aren't in the USAT/MMA Nation top ten.
Only two opponents in the last three years have been top fighters, Japanese submission ace Shinya Aoki and ground and pound specialist Tatsuya Kawajiri. Otherwise, Melendez has been feasting mostly on scraps the UFC wasn't interested in or the final remnants of the Japanese MMA meltdown. We don't know how good he is. A fight or two in the UFC would help show us.
It would also help Melendez where he needs it most. Myers applauds Gilbert for not making waves, for "saying the right things." He means that as a compliment, but its a big reason Melendez has been an afterthought in the UFC's wholesale dismantling of Strikeforce, despite early behind the scenes lobbying. His teammate Nick Diaz was picked up almost immediately. So was heavyweight sensation Alistair Overeem. Even part time fighter Cung Le got the call before Melendez.
There's a reason for that. Gil, frankly speaking, isn't a marketable personality. Despite training alongside the famous Diaz brothers, Melendez hasn't developed the kind of persona that sells tickets and pay per views. Frankie Edgar has also struggled at the box office, failing to make waves even with reality stars like Gray Maynard and legends like B.J. Penn. Imagine the numbers for an Edgar title defense against a virtual unknown like Melendez.
If the UFC does bring Melendez in for an immediate title shot, it will be a last ditch effort to book the "Strikeforce vs. UFC" bout that has eluded them. Diaz's meltdown prevented the first and best chance to succeed with that gimmick. Inserting Melendez into that storyline will be like putting a round peg in a square hole.
Even in his wildest moments, what passes for trash talk from him, Melendez will only make the argument he is top five or top three in the world. That storyline requires a brash fighter - someone who believes in their heart they are the best in the world and the UFC's champion a pretender to their throne. Melendez is not that guy. Let him wait and earn his title shot and his place in the sport before he steps into the cage with the UFC title on the line.