Is Gilbert Melendez a good fighter?
Before his victory over Jorge Masvidal in Saturday night's Strikeforce event in San Diego, that fact was undisputable. He was the second-best fighter in the world at lightweight and was an absolute wrecking machine so far; Masvidal was a bump on the road that probably was going to be finished early and violently. Five rounds later and a unanimous decision in his favor, Melendez moves on to his next title defense.
And one imagines that once he gets alone in his locker room, contemplating that title defense, he'll do what Alexander the Great did because now he's seen the breadth of his domain. And he'll weep because there are no more worlds to conquer in the Strikeforce lightweight division.
You can't downgrade Melendez after this fight, realistically, because he did thoroughly dominate a fighter below his caliber for 25 minutes. Melendez didn't finish Masvidal, far from it, but he beat him and beat him convincingly. You really can't fault him for that but the story that's going to be slowly creeping out after this victory is that Melendez is overrated.
Perhaps he'll be downgraded from his perch as the No. 1 or No. 2 lightweight in the world for it by some as well; it's an easy argument to make that if Frankie Edgar did the same thing to Masvidal that Melendez did that it'd be hard to justify him as the No. 1 fighter in the world. And it's also the correct one. Why?
Because we don't know how good Melendez is until he fights UFC-caliber competition on a regular basis.
At this point there's no one in the Strikeforce lightweight division that'll pose any more of a challenge than Masvidal will. Outside of a fluke upset, which seems rarer the more Melendez fights, no one is going to push Melendez as the top of the UFC food chain will.
When you contemplate who he ought to fight next, a handful of fighters come up. Melvin Guillard could make for a fun fight, as could Donald Cerrone, Gray Maynard and a handful of other fighters that aren't in the crowded UFC lightweight title picture. And the problem is that none of them are in Strikeforce right now, which is where Melendez resides.
Every true challenge to Melendez isn't in Strikeforce and while a fight against someone like Ryan Couture would have some name value, and there are fighters in the division who could merit a title shot, Melendez defending the Strikeforce title against someone like Josh Thompson doesn't show us anything about Melendez that we don't already know.
Melendez owns some quality victories over the years; he notched a split decision over Clay Guida five years ago, as well as Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri over the past 18 months, but his resume of victories is thin in comparison to other fighters in the division. If you did some MMA math he shouldn't be considered anywhere near the same category as someone like Edgar, Maynard or even someone like Kenny Florian. He has enough quality victories recently to be considered that good in both the division and pound-for-pound rankings, obviously, but his fight with Masvidal has added one thing to his perception.
And until Melendez gets quality opponents who are truly in the top five in the world, that notion is going to increase slowly but surely. If he loses to someone it'll justify all the doubts that are going to slowly creep up.
"El Nino" needs a change in his diet from the best of the rest to the best of the best. He's grown past the division and the title and we need to know whether or not he's the best lightweight in the world like many think he is.