Gilbert Melendez Doesn't Deserve a UFC Title Shot Yet
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In fact, if "El Nino" does get called up to the UFC, he should take a number and wait for at least a year.
Despite his seven-fight, three-year winning streak with six successful defenses of the Strikeforce lightweight title, Melendez just isn't worth a main-event spot on a UFC pay-per-view card or TV event.
Harsh? Maybe, but it's true.
Hell, I've argued myself that Bendo vs. Melendez is a superfight that will entertain hardcore fans who've followed both fighters' careers. Moreover, it seems like an easy task for the UFC to promote Melendez's winning streak.
But looking at the numbers, I'm dead wrong: Melendez isn't a star, he doesn't draw fans and he's certainly no Ronda Rousey.
Let's take a step back and dissect those statements.
Melendez Isn't a Star
Melendez may be a Strikeforce champion, but he isn't very popular.
It's a trend that frankly dogged him throughout his career, as Melendez has continually been upstaged by more entertaining and marketable fighters. It's more apparent looking at his history as a main-card draw with the company:
• Out of 10 title fights, Melendez has only headlined two Strikeforce cards.
• Out of 10 title fights, Melendez has been the co-main event five times.
• Out of 10 title fights, Melendez has only been advertised on the official event poster five times.
• In three Strikeforce events, Melendez's title fight wasn't the main event or co-main event.
For someone who's been featured in so many championship bouts with Strikeforce, the company hasn't promoted him very much.
Compared to stars like Nick Diaz, Frank Shamrock, Cung Le, Dan Henderson and Gina Carano, Melendez is often treated as an afterthought, with his title belt thrown in to stack a card rather than lead it.
That's a stark contrast to the UFC, who often gives its own lightweight championship fights proper main-event billing.
Does Gil deserve a title shot at Bendo?
Melendez Doesn't Draw Fans
One area where Melendez does stand out is poor attendance records for live events.
If you subscribe to the idea that the main event of a fight card is largely responsible for bringing in ticket buyers, Melendez and his challengers have underperformed to say the least.
Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal (the last event the champion headlined) drew an attendance of 2,995 to the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. That's a rather poor number for the venue, which can actually hold a crowd of 16,000.
Compare it to the other events that Strikeforce held there, and you see the disparity:
• Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley—9,059
• Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman—3,502
• Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal—2,995
Strikeforce has also held 15 events at the HP Pavilion Center in their hometown of San Jose, where the most popular cards have pulled in over 10,000 fans. Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Thomson holds the promotion's record for the third lowest gate at that venue, barely clearing 7,000 seats.
Gilbert Melendez ≠ Ronda Rousey
But even with the raw numbers saying otherwise, Melendez told Bleacher Report that he expects to get the warm reception into the UFC that Rousey had earlier this month:
They gave Ronda the title, all kinds of respect, and I feel I deserve just as much respect as she's getting. I think I've done a lot in this sport. I hold the Strikeforce title and I feel it's a respectable one. They have always said it is the equivalent to the UFC belt and hopefully I get the same respect.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of stuff in that one block of text to pick apart.
Melendez has definitely done a lot in MMA, but he hasn't drawn anywhere near the mainstream attention that Rousey did in just two years. Just by Google metrics alone, the two champions are light years apart when it comes to mainstream relevancy with potential viewers.
People are always talking about Rousey. Melendez barely stirs conversation.
Moreover, Melendez may have six title defenses padding his record, but his fights have all been won against vastly overmatched opponents (including the overrated Shinya Aoki).
After spending so many years fighting relatively weak competition, that doesn't give him a ton of credibility as a world champion.
"El Nino" is definitely one of the top lightweights in MMA, but he's far from a top face.
Ronda Rousey, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson are living proof that it takes more than a Strikeforce belt to sell a superfight—and based on that, there's little reason to believe that Melendez deserves an immediate shot at Bendo's UFC belt.
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