By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
Heading into this month, many believed Anthony Pettis would be in line for a title fight - and rematch - with UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson if he got past Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 6. However, the end of Strikeforce has brought longtime Strikeforce Lightweight Champion - and perennial top five lightweight - Gilbert Melendez into the conversation.
With Melendez being held as one of the top 155 lb. fighters in the world for years, Henderson's camp wants that fight, and it seems the once thought No. 1 contender bout between Pettis and Cerrone may be anything but.
"We really like the Gilbert Melendez fight, and I'll tell you why: Gilbert Melendez has been ranked either No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 between himself, Frankie Edgar and Benson," Henderson's manager Malki Kawa said in an interview with MMAJunkie.com. "Frankie was considered No. 1 in the world, and Benson beat him. Now some people are saying Gilbert might be No. 1 in the world. OK, well Benson would like to beat him, too, and leave no doubt that he is the best 155-pounder in the world."
"Depending on whose poll you look at over the past few years, it's been those guys in the top three spots, and Benson definitely wants to fight the best guys in the world. He's already defeated Frankie. Beating Gilbert would prove that Benson is absolutely the best lightweight in MMA."
This comes after Henderson locked up a new fight contract this past week, likely in response to the numbers revealed in the Eddie Alvarez offer that has him tied up in litigation with Bellator. While Kawa wouldn't go into any details on the deal, he affirmed that Henderson was definitely taken care of by the UFC.
"Obviously we could never get into specifics about a contract, but it's a very fair deal and one that stands to make Benson a lot of money," Kawa said. "We felt the UFC was very fair in their handling of the discussions, and this is a very lucrative contract. This contract can secure Benson's future. He just has to go out and win. If he can win his next few fights, he'll be a very happy man."
"We're really interested in fighting Gilbert Melendez, and we've got a lot of confidence that the UFC will make that fight happen. Right now we're just happy to have this contract done, and we're going to sit back and hope that this is the fight they give us. It's the top two lightweight fighters in the world at this point. It needs to happen."
Penick's Analysis: I disagree with taking Melendez over Pettis - should Pettis defeat Cerrone - for a couple of reasons. First, Melendez's stock has taken a dip in the last couple of years. He's had to fight lesser opposition, he's been battling injuries for the last year, and he hasn't drawn the attendance or viewership on television that he used to draw. Pettis has had his own issues with injuries, of course, but his next fight will be coming on Fox this month, with a chance to get a ton of exposure in a lead up to an eventual pay-per-view fight. If the Henderson wants to be on pay-per-view instead of Fox, Pettis is the opponent after this month. That said, if the UFC is putting Henderson back on Fox, a fight with Melendez could work, as that April Fox event will be at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. Again, though, Melendez didn't draw well there the last time he fought at the venue, so there are more factors involved. Still, with Henderson's camp pushing for Melendez, he'll effectively be pushing aside the man who beat him in the WEC once more.
[Ben Henderson art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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