Gilbert Melendez picked up some bonus money for his Fight of the Night performance against Diego Sanchez. The instant classic stole the show at UFC 166, and Melendez picked up the important victory.
It was Melendez's first time back in the Octagon since dropping his title bid to Benson Henderson, and the No. 2-ranked lightweight will try to get right back in the mix for another crack at the gold. The title will be on the line later this year between new champion Anthony Pettis and Josh Thomson. So, who's next for Melendez?
Let's have a gander at three possible opponents for Melendez's next fight.
Anthony Pettis vs. Josh Thomson Winner
Melendez dropped a contentious decision to Henderson earlier this year, and after picking up a win he should be one of the first names in line for a title shot. However, a lot of that depends on what the UFC plans to do with TJ Grant.
Grant earned his title shot, but an injury caused him to miss it. While that is unfortunate, that is part of the game. In his time away from the cage a lot has changed in the division. It would not be wrong of the UFC to jump Melendez ahead of him.
It isn't likely that the UFC will give Melendez the next shot, but should Thomson walk away with the title belt it should be the only fight they entertain. The UFC audience who didn't watch the Melendez-Thomson trilogy in Strikeforce needs to be exposed to their amazing bouts.
Nurmagomedov wants a big fight for his next outing, and it doesn't get much bigger than Melendez.
This fight may not send chills down many spines and it may not be a headlining type of fight, but this fight will place the winner as a legitimate contender. It will also help clear the field for 2014.
There are a lot of ways that the UFC can go in the division, but both of these men deserve top-10 opponents. Melendez did his part in dispatching of the unranked Sanchez at UFC 166. He needs a top 10 opponent to ensure he doesn't lose positioning in the division.
This would be a fun under-the-radar fight to watch.
With Pettis and Thomson not fighting until December that puts the schedule for the next title defense into late spring or early summer. The UFC should put Grant in a contender's fight against Melendez. It'll solve who should get the shot and make sure Grant does not accrue too much ring rust.
It is one of the best options for the UFC. It solves a lot of problems while giving the fans an exciting fight.
The No. 2 and No. 3-ranked lightweights battling for a title shot is a sight we should see because we know No. 1-ranked Henderson is not getting a title shot soon.
If this fight happens, hopefully it can headline a Fight Night card so that we get it at five rounds and not three.