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And Then There Were Three

By on November 9, 2010

It’s easy to take for granted that the top fighter in the world in each weight class usually receives checks from Zuffa. While there have been notable exceptions over the years (such as Fedor Emelianenko for several years or Wanderlei Silva in his prime, among others), at any point in time a majority of the world’s top fighters have been in the UFC…or in recent years, the WEC.

While the success of Pride Fighting Championships mixed things up quite a bit, the ultimate failure of that promotion led to rankings that are stacked with a vast majority of UFC and WEC fighters. A situation where there is real debate about whether a Zuffa-employed fighter is better than a counterpart elsewhere is pretty rare these days. However, a quick look at the lightweight division reveals that there is quite a bit of debate about who should be the top fighter in the weight class.

To me and many others, the top fighter at 155 pounds is Frankie Edgar. Detractors will point out that he lost to Gray Maynard, but that was about two and a half years ago. Furthermore, in my mind, he did the most important thing a fighter can do to assume the mantle- he beat the number one guy in the division. Not only that, but he did it twice.

The fact that BJ Penn was a clear-cut, consensus number one before the two Edgar losses makes it even easier for me to rank Edgar as the top lightweight in the world. However, there are others who feel differently. No one that isn’t present at Maynard family reunions is seriously campaigning for Gray Maynard at the top spot, though he does have an unblemished record of ten wins and no losses, as well as a win over the champ himself. No, what makes this particular situation so interesting is that the other two fighters who have started to garner some attention as potential successors to BJ Penn are currently fighting outside of the UFC.

Those fighters are Gilbert Melendez of Strikeforce and Eddie Alvarez of Bellator Fighting Championships. Recently, both have had performances that have led many within their respective organizations-from announcers to executives and other fighters- to say that they should hold the top spot in the world.

It smacks more than a little bit of bias to hear Strikeforce or Bellator’s commentary teams claim that their own promotion’s lightweight champion is the best in the world, but it says a lot that you can’t really dismiss it outright. There is at least some merit to the claims, which aren’t completely ridiculous, at least.

Melendez earned a certain number of votes when he pummeled and dismantled Shinya Aoki during their fight in Strikeforce awhile back. For those who already had Melendez in the top five and who vaulted Aoki to the top spot when Penn first lost to Edgar, it makes sense to rank Melendez first. For me, Aoki proved to be too one-dimensional to have ever been the best lightweight out there, and Melendez lacks enough signature wins against top competition, but that’s just me.

Then there’s Alvarez, who garners significantly less consideration among media members for the top spot, though it’s hard not to be impressed by his utter destruction of Roger Huerta. Sure, Huerta has been on a rough streak lately, but he provides that all-important opportunity to compare Alvarez against UFC fighters that Huerta had faced during his time in the Octagon. Huerta may not have been a champion in the UFC, but he fared well and beat some tough opponents, and never looked as bad as he did against Alvarez, even in losing efforts. Alvarez also took the tough Josh Neer apart, who managed to hold his own against tough competition in the UFC for some time, as well.

What Alvarez and Melendez really need is the opportunity to fight another truly elite lightweight, which both are angling to do in the form of a cross-promotional match against one another. With Edgar facing a challenging bout against the only fighter to have beaten him in his career so far, this fight could really open the door for Melendez or Alvarez to be considered the legitimate best lightweight in the world.

Will the fight happen? It’s hard to say, though it seems like a no-brainer at first glance. Then again, Strikeforce has a much higher profile than that of Bellator, even if both promotions pale in comparison to the UFC in terms of mainstream awareness.

Then, there’s the business side of things. Scott Coker, the CEO of Strikeforce initially said that a co-promotion would be hard to do because of all of the details, which go down to what network to air it on. Bjorn Rebney, the CEO of Bellator went on to say that a co-promotion isn’t that hard to work out at all, and that they could do the fight on Showtime, CBS or wherever else Strikeforce preferred to do it.

The whole thing quickly become a bit of a debacle, though. Rebney claimed that he was trying to get a hold of Coker to talk business, but that his messages were going unanswered, to which Coker said he had never received any messages at all. This prompted Rebney to post images of the texts themselves, although Coker dismissed that particular tactic as “childish” and said that the number Rebney was trying to contact was an old number that he no longer used.


Then, in the middle of all that, there was speculation from Alvarez himself that Coker was being evasive about a co-promotion in order to “protect” Melendez. So, who knows whether this thing can actually get done. It doesn’t even make a whole lot of business sense for Strikeforce, honestly, though it’s a great opportunity for Bellator and would be wonderful for the fans.

If Alvarez does continue to fight only the opponents that Bellator can provide for him, while Melendez continues to fight friend and quality lightweight Josh Thomson over and over for the rest of eternity, this debate over which organization has the best lightweight will not last very long. As they say, steel sharpens steel, and it’s hard to be considered the best fighter in the world when you barely have any top ten opponents to prove your worth against.

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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1 comment
  1. Mike says:

    I think Gilbert needs to get more credit than he usually gets. The man is an outstanding fighter who’s beaten many of the best. I think Frankie is probably the worlds top, but I’d put Melendez right behind him.

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