Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez lost a razor-thin split decision to UFC titleholder Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 7 last month and wants fights that get him close to another shot at the gold.
Speaking with Knockout Radio on Tuesday (transcription via MMA Weekly), "El Nino" stated that there are a number of competitors he'd like to square off with next, even expressing interest in some featherweight bouts.
“There’s a lot of good guys. Whoever is hot right now. Whoever is the hot dude who is closest to getting that title shot, I’ll take it...If it’s ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, if it’s the loser between (Jose) Aldo and (Anthony) Pettis, if it’s Pat Healy, if it’s Joe Lauzon, Diego Sanchez, who is it? You let me know who will get me quicker to the top, but it would be a good match up with all these guys.”
Any of the aforementioned bouts look like they have "Fight of the Night" written all over them, with a scrap between Pat Healy seeming like the most logical pairing to make.
"Bam Bam" was scheduled to meet Melendez for the Strikeforce title in both September (via MMA Mania) and the promotion's last show in January (via MMA Weekly), but the champion pulled out of both championship fights due to a shoulder injury.
Healy made his Octagon debut at UFC 159 last month, choking out Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Jim Miller, earning him both "Submission of the Night" and "Fight of the Night" honors.
The victory improved Healy's win streak to seven fights in a row, having also won 10 of his past 11 bouts. His sole loss came against fellow surging 155-pound contender Josh Thomson in June 2010.
Speaking of Thomson, Melendez also made note that he has no interest in having a fourth fight with "The Punk" or a rematch with Jorge Masvidal.
“All these people are new faces for me. I just don’t want to fight Josh Thomson or Jorge Masvidal,” he said.
Thomson fought on the same Fox card as Melendez, scoring a vicious Round 2 TKO over former UFC title challenger Nate Diaz.
The American Kickboxing Academy product has a 1-2 record against Melendez, though many felt Thomson should've been awarded the close decision victory over El Nino in their May 2012 encounter.
Masvidal lost a lopsided Strikeforce title fight against Melendez in December 2011, though he has since rattled off wins over Justin Wilcox and Tim Means.
Out of all the potential fights Melendez mentioned, which one sounds like the best possible matchup for the El Nino sports gym owner?