All judging controversy aside, former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez lost his third UFC bout in only four tries when he dropped a close split decision to Eddie Alvarez in a fight he was clearly winning (video highlights here) in the co-main event of last Saturday’s (June 13, 2015) UFC 188 pay-per-view (PPV) from Mexico City, Mexico.
‘El Nino’ had former Bellator king on the ropes early in their rivalry-fueled grudge match five years in the making, breaking his nose with a massive short elbow that lead to a badly swollen eye for Alvarez. But he allowed his rival to fight back with his wrestling in the second and third round, neutralizing a fading Melendez en route to the decision win.
Many argued that Melendez gassed due to the extreme altitude of Mexico City, and indeed that may have been the case. Yet all details aside, the fact simply remains that Melendez has dropped three-fourths of his UFC fights after coming over as one of the most touted (and handsomely paid) free agents in UFC history.
Ruling over the Strikeforce division with an iron fist since e won the interim title from Rodrigo Damm in April 2009, Melendez racked up nine straight victories to earn the attention of the world’s biggest promotion. He stepped right into a title shot against then-champion Ben Henderson, and had the champion on the ropes early in their bout at UFC on FOX 7 in April 2013. But like his win over Alvarez, he faded a bit in the later rounds and allowed ‘Smooth’ to come back and take a split decision.
True, he rebounded well with a unanimous decision win over Diego Sanchez in their historic war at UFC 166, but that was against an unranked challenger who was well past his prime, and Melendez was nearly finished in the last round. That led to a highly publicized contract dispute with the UFC where ‘El Nino’ teased a defection to rival Bellator MMA, who was all too willing to sign him to a lucrative contract.
Melendez balked and re-signed with the UFC after playing hardball, earning a huge contract and another title shot against Anthony Pettis following a stint as coach on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20. After a bit of early trouble (do we detect a trend?), ‘Showtime’ was able to lock Melendez up in a fight-ending guillotine choke, a win that was made less impressive when Pettis subsequently lost the belt in a dominant five round decision to Rafael dos Anjos at March’s UFC 185.
So with that said, it’s become apparent that Melendez isn’t even coming close to living up to the terms of his lucrative contract, and he’s dangerously close to becoming irrelevant in the stacked UFC lightweight division. And that’s a shame, because after all the hype and buildup of his defection to the UFC, he’s dangerously close to selling the UFC a huge batch of, to use a term from his infamous ‘Skrap pack’ teammate Nick Diaz, ‘wolf tickets.’
Their whole team is, in fact, as Melendez has lost three of four, the elder Diaz has lost three straight, and Nate Diaz has also lost three out of four. The only member of the ‘Skrap Pack’ that is ding well is Jake Shields, who’s won five out of his last seven (and it could be six out of seven if not for a failed drug test after his UFC 150 win over Ed Herman).
Ironically enough, Shields was released by the UFC following his UFC 171 loss to Hector Lombard, with them citing his paycheck as being too much for what he brought to the table. Shields is now in World Series of Fighting (WSOF), and the rest of his squad is facing the best of the best in the Octagon.
It’s true that heir recent losses have come against some of the top fighters in the sport, but unfortunately it’s also clear that the ‘Skrap Pack’ has either failed to evolve or simply fallen behind the game, or both. It’s unclear as to what’s next for Melendez, but he is definitely in a must-win situation now.
At the end of the day, Melendez simply isn’t living up to the pay grade he achieved by playing such a vehement game of hardball with the UFC.
And in this cutthroat world of the UFC, that could find a fighter released much sooner than later. Just ask, well, Jake Shields.
Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports