UFC on FOX 10: Gilbert Melendez Should Get Next LW Title Shot, Not Henderson

Mitchell CiccarelliAnalyst IJanuary 26, 2014

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Benson Henderson was hoping to earn a shot at redemption on Saturday night in the form of a trilogy bout with Anthony Pettis. Instead, the former lightweight champion has left fans with more to be desired.

Henderson’s split-decision victory over No. 1 contender Josh Thomson in the UFC on FOX 10 headliner was far from the “robbery” that the Internet has made it out to be. But, it also wasn’t nearly the dominant performance that the MMA Lab product needed to catapult himself back into the Octagon with Pettis either.

No, Henderson needs to do more. A lot more.

Now, maybe it would be a different story if the score between Henderson and the current champ were tied at one a piece, but it’s not. Pettis is 2-0 over Henderson and until “Smooth” leads us to believe otherwise, a third fight isn’t sexy right now.

In a bout that was billed to determine the lightweight division’s next contender, all this fight did was leave more questions than answers as to who will challenge “Showtime” next for the gold.

Thomson, despite arguably getting the better of Henderson through five rounds, lost his golden ticket following the decision. The AKA product is still an exciting opponent for Pettis, but the odds of that matchup being booked next are slim to none.

Sorry Josh, it’s not happening for you right now.

Fortunately for the UFC, they have about six months to figure out a game plan for the lightweight title. Pettis isn’t expected to return until July so there is ample time to map out the division.

UFC matchmaker Joe Silva could easily set up another “unofficial” No. 1 contender’s bout to determine the next challenger.

He could. But he doesn’t have to.

There is already a man waiting in the wings to dethrone Pettis: Gilbert Melendez.

Photo by Joshua Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

While “El Nino” might not want to wait until July to fight again, he is the right opponent to not only challenge Pettis, but to beat him as well.

Considered by many as the “uncrowned” champ, Melendez challenged Henderson for the gold at UFC on FOX 7, last April. Like his Strikeforce-rival Thomson, Melendez arguably beat Henderson that night, but the judges saw it otherwise.

Recently, Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez in one of the craziest, back-and-forth battles in UFC history. That fight took place at UFC 166 in October, and ever since then, fans have been foaming at the mouth waiting for Melendez’s next fight.

It needs to be for the title. It has to be.

Pettis vs. Melendez is the biggest marquee matchup you can make in the lightweight division at the moment. Since winning the belt at UFC 164, “Showtime” Pettis has seen his popularity skyrocket.

This is a kid that has the potential to be a huge cash cow for the organization. He’s not there yet, but book him in thrillers with guys like Melendez and he surely will be soon.

Melendez is red hot coming off the slobber-knocker with Sanchez. Fans already think this guy is the best in the world, despite the loss on his record to Henderson.

We can beat around the bush all day and have Melendez fight guys like Khabib Nurmagomedov or TJ Grant but, quite frankly, that would be silly.

Give us the fight that we want to see. Give us the fight that we need to see.

I can understand if Melendez chooses to stay active while Pettis is on the mend, but it’s another thing entirely if the UFC makes that decision for him. It would be a mistake on their part. Nobody really wants to see anyone else take on Pettis right now.

Sure, Melendez’s teammate Nathan Diaz would be an exciting option for the champ too, but, despite what his management thinks, Diaz isn’t ready for another title shot.

The Stockton bad boy was fresh off back-to-back losses before he sent Gray Maynard crashing to the canvas at The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale.

I got news for you, Nate: TJ Grant did the same thing not long ago, and he’s actually got a winning record right now. Maybe you should fight Grant first before you talk about a title shot with Pettis.

Everyone else in the division has to win another fight or two before anyone in their right mind would view them as a threat to the 155-pound king.

Melendez is already there.

He’s already being talked about as the guy that could potentially shut Pettis down. It just doesn’t make sense to go in any other direction right now. Melendez needs to fight Pettis.

You can have Henderson square off with Nurmagomedov to see who’s next after that. It really doesn’t matter. Melendez and Pettis is the right choice. It’s the people’s choice.

Let’s see if it’s the UFC’s choice.


Photo by Joshua Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Mitch Ciccarelli is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and co-host of Alchemist Radio. He is also a United States Airman. Follow him on Twitter @MitchCiccarelli and follow @AlchemistRadio.