Gilbert Melendez impressed everybody last weekend with his first-round drubbing of former Pride and Dream fighter Tatsuya Kawajiri to solidify his place among the best lightweights in the world.
Following a year layoff, Melendez came back guns blazing and didn’t stop until Kawajiri was finished. In the end, he laid claim to the top of the lightweight mountain.
Now comes the interesting part of finding the next opponent for Melendez.
Rumors started circling right after his fight with Kawajiri that the UFC was thinking about bringing in a title contender to face Melendez next. Names like Jim Miller started popping up right away, but it appears that fight or any cross-promotional fight won’t be Melendez’s next title defense.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker confirmed to MMAWeekly Radio that the next challenger for the 155-pound title will come internally. He mentioned a few names that could be inked to challenge for Melendez’s throne.
“After that performance, I don’t see a lot of guys lined up to say ‘hey I can’t wait to fight Gilbert,'” Coker joked.
“We have some guys that are up-and-coming, we do some elimination fights. I think guys names like K.J. Noons; or maybe after a couple more fights a guy like Justin Wilcox, who is an amazing wrestler, could give Gilbert a hard time; or even Jorge Masvidal. There’s three guys that I think after a couple more fights could get there.”
At this point, there are no plans to bring in anybody from the UFC to challenge Melendez, but Coker is confident they can fill the slot with a quality opponent.
“Yeah absolutely,” he answered when asked if the next 155-pound contender will come from Strikeforce’s current roster. “We have a great roster, we have a great television contract, we have our own contracts to fulfill with the athletes, and we’re going to go do that.”
K.J. Noons might lead that list of contenders as the former lightweight champion out of EliteXC, and somebody that holds a win over current Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz. Noons most recently lost a five-round war with Diaz at 170 pounds, but his stock didn’t seem to drop after going toe-to-toe with one of the top fighters in the sport.
Justin Wilcox is coming off a win in his last fight, but would most likely need to pick up at least a few more wins to get into the title discussion, while Jorge Masvidal impressed everybody with his decision win over previously undefeated lightweight Billy Evangelista in March.
The other name that gets thrown into the mix will be Josh Thomson when he’s healthy and ready to return. The former Strikeforce champion is currently nursing an injured hand, but when he comes back, with another win, he could throw his name in the hat as a contender.
While the crossover dream fights that many fans are salivating over right now aren’t happening just yet, Coker does believe they will be possible down the road.
“There’s not one fight out there that should not be made now,” he said. “Every fight the fans want to see now will eventually be made.”