Who is the greatest lightweight fighter in the world? For the first time in years, there isn’t an easy answer to that question. Thanks to BJ Penn’s very close and controversial decision loss to Frankie Edgar, the lightweight division is up for grabs. For the time being, Edgar is known as #1 in the world, but is he really the best? Gilbert Melendez, fresh off a convincing performance against Shinya Aoki (previously widely-regarded as the #2 lightweight behind Penn), and Eddie Alvarez, who continues his dominance in Bellator, are also climbing up the rankings, but where do they stand? Who can really call themselves the best?
In a May 14th appearance on HDNet’s "Inside MMA," Melendez, the reigning Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, called out Eddie Alvarez, the reigning Bellator Lightweight Champion. After Penn’s loss, the doors are open for a new #1 lightweight. "Anyone in the top 10 I’d like to fight. Anyone that can help me prove that I’m top 10. Eddie Alvarez, I think he’s an amazing fighter and that’s why I do call out Eddie Alvarez. Let’s unify those titles. I’d love to fight that guy, and test myself. I think if I can beat him I could be #1, and vice versa."
So will this fight happen? I think it needs to. Every week since the Melendez interview, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has appeared on Bellator’s broadcasts to talk emphasize that he is going to push to make it happen. Melendez wants it. Alvarez wants it. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has not yet seemed to share their enthusiasm, but he has not shied away from co-promotional deals in the past. While a co-promotion with Bellator would mark Strikeforce’s first such deal with a direct American competitor, there is enough demand for this fight to ensure that it materializes. Besides, there aren’t really any fights left for Melendez in Strikeforce, except maybe KJ Noons or a third fight with Josh Thompson. Eddie Alvarez may not be available until the Fall since his next fight will be against the Bellator Season 2 Lightweight Tournament winner. In the meantime Melendez can take a trip to DREAM to give Aoki a rematch or to fight JZ Calvacante. After that, assuming both men win, there is no reason they shouldn’t meet in the cage.
Melendez’s claim that the winner of a potential fight with Alvarez could be considered the #1 lightweight in the world might be wishful thinking, but, then again, it might not. Both Melendez and Alvarez have been looking unstoppable in their recent fights. Meanwhile, Frank Edgar, who is ranked #1 right now, remains unproven. He was in the right place at the right time, and was able to eke out a decision against a listless BJ Penn, who missed three weeks of training camp due to a sinus infection and may have been fighting with a knee injury. I don’t see Edgar stepping into the cage and beating a healthy BJ Penn, or Gilbert Melendez, or Eddie Alvarez, or Kenny Florian, for that matter. UFC 118’s rematch between BJ Penn and Frank Edgar will prove who really is the best lightweight in the UFC. Once Bjorn Rebney and Scott Coker get on the same page and co-promote a fight between Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez, we will know who is the best lightweight outside of it. Then its just up to Dana White to give the fans what they really want, a co-promotional superfight with the UFC to determine the best lightweight fighter in the world. A fan can dream, can’t he?