Event Primer: Strikeforce - Melendez vs. Masvidal Edition
Faced with an uncertain future, the Strikeforce organization hasn’t hosted a major event since September, a streak that was threatening to reach triple digits until scheduling Saturday’s event in San Diego. For a time, even that seemed tentative as talks between Strikeforce and television partner Showtime stalled, but the most recent signs for a continued relationship between the sides look positive, and the hope is that this event can help spring them into the new year and a new deal. Meanwhile, the fighters who had been left blowing in the wind are simply relieved to have a place to ply their trade.
For lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, it must be a bit bittersweet.
Melendez is one of the few remaining building blocks from the original iteration of Strikeforce. He’s an original from its early days, inarguably its most successful home-grown talent, and the only current male Strikeforce fighter ranked in the top five of his respective weight class globally. But there is also the belief that he’s deserving of a bigger stage. UFC president Dana White -- who now owns a piece of Strikeforce through UFC parent company Zuffa -- openly spoke about bringing Melendez to his octagon, an offer that his since been tabled.
For his part, Melendez thinks it’s “inevitable,” but the future of Strikeforce, once hazy, seems to be on stronger ground, and while other Strikeforce champs emigrated to the UFC, he may be left behind to carry the mantle.
Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez (19-2) vs. Jorge Masvidal (22-6)
Valley View Casino Center - San Diego, California
Substance Over Style
Winning a championship is a lifelong goal for most athletes, and that might be even more true of fighters, because you get to keep a shiny gold belt as a remembrance of your time at the top. Don’t count Masvidal among them. The 27-year-old, who has fought throughout the world, told NBCSports.com last week that he could “really care less” about the belt. Come again?
“Sometimes you fight a guy that has a belt that’s not a top guy that could be a scrub or something,” he said. “But I’m actually fighting one of the top lightweights in the world and that’s what really means something to me.”
Where exactly Melendez ranks among the world’s lightweight has been debated for a couple of years now. Melendez has won five straight overall, including dominant performances over Japanese stars Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri. But by virtue of a recent loss by Eddie Alvarez and BJ Penn moving back to welterweight, he seems to have settled into the No. 2 spot in most polls. If he beats Masvidal, that might make for an interesting scenario for the executives at Zuffa, who pride themselves on making the matchups fans want to see. If Melendez is considered the No. 2 lightweight, there will be no reason they can’t match him against the UFC champ and determine the true No. 1. Whether or not they pull the trigger on Strikeforce vs. UFC superfights might be the most intriguing development to watch in 2012.
Return of Cyborg
It’s been over 16 months between fights for women’s featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Santos, time surrendered during the prime of her career to contract squabbles and issues finding an opponent. She finally returns against Hiroko Yamanaka, a Japanese fighter who will be competing away from her home soil from the first time. Not surprisingly, “Cyborg” is considered a monumental favorite. The concept of “ring rust” seems to apply to MMA, but Cyborg is known for a ferocious work ethic, and it’s unlikely that she’ll have any problems adjusting to the speed of real fight action after the time away. For most, the big question when it comes to Santos seems to be what’s next, and she recently admitted she’s contemplating a move to bantamweight because of the increased opportunities there.
When Ovince St. Preux made his Strikeforce debut in April 2010, he was just 4-4 and was basically included on the card as a local attraction. The event was held in Nashville, and as a former University of Tennessee football player in a football-crazy state, St. Preux was added as a gate draw. Twenty months later, he hasn’t lost since, and rides a seven-fight win streak into a bout against the decorated former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champ Gegard Mousasi.
St. Preux once chased his NFL dreams, but told NBCSports.com that he’s glad things worked out the way they have.
“It’s just a situation that worked out perfectly for me,” he said. “I’ve been working towards this, I paid my dues, and I feel I’m ready for this step.”
Back to Basics for Noons
There’s no questioning the toughness of KJ Noons. During Nick Diaz’s current 11-fight win streak, only two fighters have been able to go the distance with him. One is legend BJ Penn, the other is Noons. But the gifted striker missed out on both his chance to win the welterweight title when he lost to Diaz, as well as a potential lightweight title shot when he dropped a decision to the aforementioned Masvidal.
Now the loser of two straight, Noons has no choice but to beat Billy Evangelista and rebuild himself as a threat to Melendez. Given his past success as a lightweight, Noons is one of few names Strikeforce may be able to offer Melendez as a legitimate challenge before he runs out of options. But to do that, he’s got to hold up his end of the deal and win.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
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