The three-fight win streak in Atlanta (and the subsequent seven-fight road trip to the United States) was a testament to the strength and character of Gilbert Melendez, a former UFC heavyweight champion. With a combined 23-9-1 MMA record, in his 13-fight career, Melendez has done much more in life than winning two separate titles. Over the course of his six-fight UFC career, he has won a welterweight title, a interim title fight in 2013, two super welterweights and a welterweight championship at Strikeforce, all while advancing to the WBA 135 pounds title. Melendez is also an incredibly popular fighter, but a year ago, in his fight against Andrei Arlovski, he had only managed to take down the Irishman six times, with no stoppage of their first. Yet with his MMA debut coming in their rematch, the Brazilian is in hot water, unable to show any signs of improvement. He also missed almost all of Round 2 in this one, despite taking a late first effort to win the division. The loss saw UFC officials shift their decision to Arlovski and the decision’s effect on the UFC is still uncertain. The only major issues with Melendez’s performance are that he is unable to defend his dominant submission reign on Strikeforce:
After Melendez’s victory, UFC chief Dana White announced that he is looking to retain his job as the commission’s president to be compensated if his fight with Arlovski is dropped. However, Melendez has not received a ton of media attention since the announcement in late April. He still holds a small lead over others on the judging and event management table in the co-main event, with a 7.2-percent lead in WSOF, and 2.1 percent in mixed martial arts, although not statistically close or even close to his highest point the year prior. The fight against Arlovski is just in his second bout and Melendez is a fairly young fighter (21-6). His performance against Lyoto Machida would be his perfect matchup for him in the first 10 rounds, but even then his speed and athleticism are only the second-best of his opponents at 185 pounds. If this turns out to be just a mistake, then Melendez faces Koechka at least twice in the main event, and may never be as good as his performance at the hands of Arlovski.
While his best performance against Lyoto Machida was a win above expectations at UFC Fight Night 82 (just a few weeks after winning his belt) in Atlanta, his second stoppage of that fight at Strikeforce left Leandro Barbosa with three points. Despite his position as the best lightweight prospect to enter UFC competition, Melendez is only 22 years old and has a big payday to give up.
With such a high point in his UFC career and the two-fight road trip to the United States, it should not be questioned when Melendez will arrive, as he is on track to win a championship in MMA. If the UFC is going to rely solely on fighters like him to compete this year, it should be focusing its money on top strikers. A majority of Melendez’s competitors (at least three in the top 20 at UFC Fight Night 82) have great footwork, but he is not a pure-six foot two-leg wrestler. This past October when an Italian fighter fought a top-10, Melendez (27-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) knocked out Juan Manuel Santos with an impressive right hand in the first round. The win put Melendez up four straight rounds, which was close to taking his career. Yet despite his dominance, his body frame is still not a dominating force. In fact, he has been the weakest of his opponents at 185 pounds; that is why his most recent opponent and third-place (and current, and current-fight lead that the UFC placed on Anthony Pettis) are probably Melendez’s most promising strikers.
It never bothers Melendez that he is the only top 20 prospect in MMA at 183 pounds. It has always been the case in MMA that when top 20 prospects dominate their respective divisionals, it’s not enough for the promotion to rely on MMA to reach a win rate. A fighter who dominates his division is an underdog, but in his best moments, Melendez proves he can win a division, as his performance against Maia Johnson at UFC Fight Night 76 was nothing short of impressive.
But like all great fighters, he just couldn’t be put down. He was just trying to prove that he was not a weak and ineffective grappler by winning a title in a UFC ring in the process. The thing is, in the beginning, Melendez was still a good fighter. Many will view his performance as an opportunity to step back and show his worth to the world. But being one of the best lightweights around doesn’t mean losing to any fight. When Melendez, it is simply about finding the right men that can defeat you.