Unfortunately, with contracts in place, Melendez was instead forced to stay fighting under the Strikeforce banner for the foreseeable future, with a somewhat lacking talent pool available to challenge him.
Melendez bested a very tough and game Jorge Masvidal last December, and it seemed like there might be a sunrise on the horizon when the head honchos at Zuffa hinted that a major opponent might be secured for his next title defense.
Both B.J. Penn and former UFC title contender Gray Maynard were under consideration to face Melendez at one point, but when those deals couldn’t be completed, Strikeforce opted instead to put the champion back in a third fight with old rival Josh Thomson.
For a long time following their first two battles, just about everyone was anticipating a third fight between Melendez and Thomson, but as time passes and careers go in different directions, those expectations fade.
Since their last fight, Melendez went on to become one of the top lightweights in the world, battling for the top spot with whoever owns the UFC 155-pound strap, while Thomson has dealt with loss and struggling mightily to stay healthy.
So it was with some surprise that Thomson, after only one win after getting back in the Strikeforce cage, was handed another shot at Melendez and the lightweight title.
The fight didn’t particularly interest Melendez either at the time, but he’s got a job to do, and that job is to fight. If Josh Thomson is the one in front of him, then fight is what Melendez is going to do.
“Initially, I wasn’t the most thrilled about it, but it is what it is. I’m cool with it. Now that I accepted that it’s going down, I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Melendez said when speaking to MMAWeekly Radio recently.
It took some real reflection for Melendez to find the right motivation in order to prepare for Thomson after less than a year ago having the tease of fighting in the UFC dangled right in front of his nose.
“I’ve got my motivation. I just look to my family, I look to my team, I look to my fans, and those people that really support me in what I’m doing. I just have to re-think my goals a little bit. My goal was to become the UFC champ and that might be put on hold for a little bit,” said Melendez honestly.
“So now my goal is to do my best, become a better mixed martial artist, and put on a show for the fans, and represent my team well. That’s what motivates me and so does the paycheck, so let’s do it.”
When looking at the fight on paper, most believe Melendez should be a huge favorite heading into his third match-up with Thomson. The incumbent Strikeforce champ has solidified himself as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet over the last couple of years, while Thomson has struggled to stay in the cage as opposed to the doctor’s office.
With those odds also come heavy expectations, and Melendez understands that just because he’s supposed to win, doesn’t mean he will win. He still has to go out and face a very tough Josh Thomson, with the understanding that anything less than a dominant victory simply isn’t acceptable.
“Of course I want to finish Josh. I want bad intentions towards him; I want to destroy this guy. I want to make a statement,” said Melendez.
“But if a great fighter shows up and it’s a war, then it’s a war. I don’t plan on sitting back and cruising through a victory, sitting on a lead or something like that. I want to take some risks and I plan on it.”
Don’t let his words fool you, Melendez is as calculating mentally as he is devastating physically in the cage, but his biggest risk right now may be toiling away against moderate competition in Strikeforce while great opponents still lie ahead in the UFC.
Will that ever happen for Melendez? That’s hard to say, but for now his goal is clear: beat Josh Thomson, get a paycheck, and head home to his family.