It’s been almost a year since Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez last stepped foot in the cage, dominating Shinya Aoki on his way to becoming the No. 2 ranked lightweight fighter in the world.
Following the fight with Aoki, Melendez took some much needed time off, dealt with a broken hand, and became a father.
A proposed rematch with Aoki for New Year’s Eve fell through. Now Melendez remains on the sideline waiting for the next opponent to step in and challenge him for the belt. The top name on the list is a fighter Melendez is all too familiar with.
Tatsuya Kawajiri put on possibly one of his best performances during the year-end show in Japan. He dominated former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson on his way to a lopsided decision win. Strikeforce now appears poised to offer Kawajiri a shot at Melendez’s title, if the deal can get done.
“We’re talking to Japan, but things move slow over there and it’s been an ongoing conversation,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker told MMAWeekly Radio.
While nothing has even been formally offered, Coker wouldn’t shut the door on a possible March return date for Melendez, but with only five weeks to go until their show in Ohio, it’s not likely he’ll end up a part of it.
“There’s a possibility. The fights aren’t finalized, but until we come back with a final card or at least a final main event, I really don’t want to talk about confirmations,” Coker responded when pressed about Melendez’s involvement with the March Strikeforce fight card.
The other major issue is that during Melendez’s downtime, no real contender within Strikeforce’s own lightweight division has been established. It appeared Thomson was the likely person for the job, but he ended up losing to Kawajiri, pushing those plans back, at least for the time being.
Other potential contenders such as Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante and K.J. Noons are both coming off losses, and recent Strikeforce signee Jorge Masvidal has yet to step in the cage for the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion.
Coker does believe that Melendez will be back soon, however, but there’s just nothing concrete enough to put pen to paper and sign a deal yet.
“He had a couple issues, he had that broken hand, and then he had the suspension issue, so yeah we would like to get him back in there right now,” Coker said. “It’s just one of the conversations we’re having.”