Strikeforce Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez is a widely talked-about commodity in the MMA community. From his dominance over a talent-depleted roster to his involvement in the infamous Nashville Brawl of 2010 to his relationship with gossip lightning rods Nick and Nate Diaz, Melendez is a name that has been on the tongue on MMA pundits for years.
Saturday night, Melendez returns to put his Strikeforce championship on the line for a sixth time against one of the only two men to previously defeat him, Josh "The Punk" Thomson. Although Melendez avenged the loss with a decision victory back in 2009, it appears that they have come full circle to clash for a rubber match.
Going into the contest, motivation and stagnation are issues that may plague the reigning champion. Here are four questions that we have for Gilbert Melendez.
The story of Buster Douglas is well known. A world champion is dominant and comes in widely expected to win without needing to put in much effort. The champ shows up and gets whooped by a guy who is immediately branded a fluke.
MMA circles know that tale in association with Matt Serra.
Melendez has recently admitted that he is having trouble finding motivation for this fight. How will that affect his training? How will it affect his cardio?
When you consider that both of his previous contests with Thomson have gone the full 25 minutes, a depleted gas tank is not an option on Saturday night.
In his four professional losses, the only time that Josh Thomson has ever been stopped came via flying head kick from Yves Edwards, and it happened nearly eight years ago.
If Melendez truly is the best lightweight alive as many claim, he should be able to find a way to stop the judges from having any say in this bout.
Melendez is hardly the lay-and-pray type; however, he has been unable to finish three of his last four opponents and would benefit greatly from a highlight-reel stoppage of some sort.
Stranded as the only star in the Strikeforce lightweight division, things are probably looking pretty bleak for Gilbert Melendez. Melendez has campaigned for a move over to the UFC ever since the Zuffa takeover. Dana White has already suggested that his hands are tied due to the contract with Showtime.
If it truly is a contract that he cannot get out of, are Gil's hopes of moving to the top organization in the world quickly vanishing? If so, will it affect him tomorrow night?
Bonus Question: In the event that Nate Diaz does win the UFC Lightweight championship later this year, would his friend and teammate Melendez give up on his dream of challenging for the belt?
What kind of dynamic would that present, knowing that Diaz has already gone on record to say that "El Nino" is the best in the world?
Nate Diaz says Gilbert Melendez is the best lightweight in the world. Yahoo! ranks Melendez as the No. 9 pound-for-pound fighter alive. Despite swimming in a very shallow talent pool, Melendez has impressed the MMA world with standout performances against Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
That being said, without competing against the rest of the top 10, we can't really tell where he stands. Is his wrestling enough to stuff the takedowns of Gray Maynard? Can he outwork the frenetic pace of Frankie Edgar? Will the pressure of Benson Henderson be too much?
We can never safely rank Melendez without someone throwing a red flag. All we know is that he has been dominant in Strikeforce and avenged his only career losses. Hopefully his fight Saturday makes enough of a statement that Dana & Co have no choice but to put him against the finest that the UFC can offer, regardless of where the bout takes place.