It's time for everyone to calm down about Gilbert Melendez.
He may be the last man standing for hipster MMA fans. He may be hyped by Strikeforce's commentators as the best lightweight in the sport. He may be put into many pound-for-pound top-10 lists.
That, though, ignores the fact that there is no foundation to consider Gilbert Melendez one of the top fighters in the sport today. After all these years, the Strikeforce lightweight champion is still an unknown commodity. No matter which way it gets hacked, he is still yet to face serious competition. It is foolhardy to consider him one of the best in the division, never mind in the sport, until that changes.
Josh Thomson, his opponent this past Saturday, was just the latest chapter in the ongoing story of Strikeforce's flimsy matchmaking.
Recently, I talked at length about the UFC featherweight division's shallow talent pool and the trouble this results in for both fighters and UFC VP of Talent Relations, Joe Silva. The Strikeforce lightweight division is quite similar, with only a handful of fighters demonstrating any level of skill. This leaves the rankings past its champion in constant flux and results in fighters getting title shots while riding one-fight winning streaks.
Simply put, Gilbert Melendez has not beaten anybody of note. Not only has he not beaten anybody of note, but he has failed to blow away these low-tier fighters as Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo have. He narrowly edged out Josh Thomson, winning a semi-controversial split decision.
Looking deeper, he did not raise many eyebrows with his bout against Jorge Masvidal and has been out-shined by many when it comes to shared opponents, including Bellator's Eddie Alvarez.
Where does Melendez rank in the lightweight division?
Make no mistake, he is a strong fighter. He has solid boxing and his ground game is nothing to shrug at. Unfortunately for Melendez and his fans, that simply is not enough to be a top 10 lightweight anymore. Certainly not enough to be in the top three, as B/R ranks him. Most of all, it is completely out of the question that he is the top lightweight at this time, regardless of Strikeforce's allegations.
Melendez coming to the UFC still feels inevitable. His disrespectful post-fight interview came just short of announcing that he is looking to pull a Nick Diaz, play the politics game and force his way out of Strikeforce.
Should he succeed, it would be very difficult to favor Melendez over many top UFC lightweights. He should be a huge underdog against champion Ben Henderson or the top contender, Frankie Edgar. Though a fight with Nate Diaz is out of the question (Cesar Gracie fighters openly refuse to fight each other), he would certainly be the riskier bet there as well.
Outside the top three, there is also no real reason to give him the edge against guys like Gray Maynard, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis or Clay Guida. On top of that, there are savvy fighters that match up well against Melendez stylistically like Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon.
Before calling foul on this article, just ask if Josh Thomson is better than any of these fighters. If for some inexplicable reason you would say he is, just look at any of those fighters' resumes side-by-side with Thomson.
Until Melendez joins the UFC and puts together wins, there is no logical reason to consider him above the fray. While, again, Melendez is a good fighter, there is no shortage of good fighters right now. If the pundits are going to keep claiming he is great, though, I hope they let me in on the secret reason they think this some time soon.