Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez made a huge statement with his hard-fought win over Diego Sanchez at last weekend’s UFC 166 card from Houston.

It was a fight that tons of MMA fans are already calling the best fight in the UFC history. Whether you believe that or not, it can’t be denied that Melendez and Sanchez laid it all on the line and delivered in a big way. It was also the kind of fight that UFC President Dana White loves. He was quick to state the win puts Melendez back into immediate title contention at 155-pounds:

“It’s very good for him that Pettis did win that fight (against Henderson) because he just got done fighting Henderson and it definitely puts him back in the mix for the title shot.”

White is referring to Anthony Pettis’ first round submission win over then-champion Ben Henderson at August’s UFC 164. ‘Showtime’ took the belt from ‘Smooth’ that night, and now the flashy champ will face off with Josh ‘Punk’ Thomson at December’s UFC on Fox 9 card.

Melendez, who lost a controversial split decision to Henderson at UFC on Fox 7 this April, had a storied trilogy with Thomson that he ultimately won (although Melendez’ last win was controversial in its own right). ‘Punk’ made a huge statement at the TUF 17 Finale by knocking out Nate Diaz with an emphatic headkick.

By using MMA math, Melendez is indeed more than deserving of another UFC title shot. While that math rarely proves to be true when the Octagon door closes, Melendez' fighting spirit can’t be denied. He went to war with Sanchez, knowing that his unranked opponent presented much more of a challenge than the numbers would suggest.

And he was nearly knocked out cold for his efforts. It could be argued that if Sanchez didn’t look for a submission after rocking Melendez in the third round, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But ‘El Nino’ recovered like the champ he is, and he earned the decision to fight on towards his ultimate goal.

Does he deserve to fight for the belt his next time out? I’d have to say yes. Pettis and Thomson will have their day in early December, putting the winner on a plausible collision course with Melendez. If Thomson wins, a fourth bout with Melendez for the UFC title would be poetic justice.

It may not be the most hyped or promoted bout, but it definitely has potential; especially for fans who’ve followed that rivalry in Strikeforce. If Pettis wins, then a bout with Melendez could be absolutely epic. Both Pettis and Melendez love to scrap and bring a diverse, complete skillset to the Octagon.

White is correct when he suggests that Melendez benefited from ‘Showtime’s’ impressive win. ‘El Nino’ had control of his own destiny against one of the most resilient fighters the UFC has ever seen in Sanchez. He won of the most rousing battle s in Octagon history, and now there is really no other direction for him to go than another title shot.

A rematch with Henderson or a fight against T.J. Grant is a bit unnecessary at this point. Do you think ‘El Nino’ should fight for the belt once more in his next fight?

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