The UFC's lightweight division is often considered the deepest in the sport, and that consensus may be correct based on just the sheer volume of talent.
However, it is not the deepest in terms of contenders. That is why Gilbert Melendez is the savior of the division.
The lightweight division has suffered from a lack of excitement from its top-end fighters in recent years. The title has been on the line in some close, technical battles, but fans have found themselves checking out during the action. There is a reason no one has been able to put the division on its shoulders since BJ Penn.
Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson are fantastic fighters, but there was a lack of excitement surrounding their fights. There was a sense that it was going to the scorecards each time they stepped through the cage doors. Will that change with Pettis? Perhaps, but injuries to the champion continue to keep him on the shelf.
The casual fanbase is not excited for TJ Grant, and he is still not yet cleared to return to training. After Grant, you reach fighters who are not getting any support for being a top-tier lightweight. Does anyone truly believe Nate Diaz is going to challenge for a title after suffering convincing defeats against Henderson and Josh Thomson? Is Rafael dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone or Jim Miller getting anyone to select a UFC event as a “must watch”? No.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is starting to gain a little bit of buzz surrounding him, but he lacks the speaking skills to truly stand out at this juncture.
Melendez is a fighter who brings it all into the cage with him.
He is a good personality who has gotten the opportunity to show that to MMA fans on ESPN and Fox telecasts. Prior to his UFC title bid in his organizational debut, the UFC did a fine job of establishing his backstory in pre-fight videos.
He has followed all of this up with two stellar performances inside the Octagon, including an absolute battle with Diego Sanchez that lit up the MMA world.
Melendez is one of the sport's most exciting fighters. On top of that, he wins big fights. That is not something everyone can say in the division, as we have seen potential contenders falter along the way, hurting their stock with the fans in the process. Melendez is a winner, and an exciting one at that.
The division needs Melendez, and more of him to be quite frank.
He is the total package from a promotional aspect, and the UFC has to get him back to action if he is healthy. His UFC 170 bout against up-and-comer Nurmagomedov was scrapped for undisclosed reasons. No new bout has been inked for Melendez.
The UFC has tried to recapture the same glow the 155-pound division lost after BJ Penn was dethroned, but it has not found the answer. Melendez is (at least part of) the answer. He's a credible contender who puts on exciting fights and is a guy who has the ability to connect with fans with the microphone as well.
The former Strikeforce champion is the savior the UFC has been looking for at lightweight. I just hope the promotion realizes it.