Melendez and Diaz deserve marquee MMA opponents

NEIL SPRINGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

TORONTO - If Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley proved anything, it’s that both Gilbert (El Nino) Melendez and Nick Diaz are great champions deserving of top competition.

Melendez embraced Strikeforce’s newly legalized elbow strikes by unleashing a torrent of the blows on tough Japanese fighter Tatsuya (Crusher) Kawajiri to earn a first-round TKO victory. The win further cemented his spot among the elite lightweights in MMA.

Diaz on the other hand, opted to fight fire with fire and trade punches with dangerous striker Paul (Semtex) Daley. After a couple close calls as a result of power shots from Daley, Diaz dropped the Brit and put him away with punches on the mat to defend his welterweight championship for the third time.

Though each fighter made a statement Saturday night, the current Strikeforce lightweight and welterweight divisions aren’t deep enough to give them the level of challenge they deserve.

Diaz could meet undefeated prospect Tyron (T-Wood) Woodley. Woodley’s wrestling credentials might make that fight interesting, since that’s the one area Diaz is weak. However, it’s still another case of Diaz fighting guys below him in the rankings.

Melendez will likely face K.J. (King) Noons next. Noons moved up to welterweight to challenge Diaz in his last fight in October, but lost a unanimous decision. However, Noons defeated Diaz the first time around in 2007 and hasn’t lost at lightweight in over four years.

Though these two fights make a certain amount of sense, Melendez and Diaz deserve marquee opponents.

And besides, fans want to see Strikeforce vs. UFC. Just because UFC president Dana White claims it will be business as usual, doesn’t mean we can’t lay out a few dream matches for the hell of it.

Diaz vs. GSP

This isn’t meant as a slight to Jake Shields. He certainly has the tools to pull off the upset against Georges (Rush) St. Pierre at UFC 129. But if Shields does win the UFC welterweight title, he and Diaz would never face each other. Diaz recently called the thought of fighting a teammate “sickening” on a Strikeforce conference call.

Even if St. Pierre was to lose, Diaz is a hell of a marketable fight for him. Not only are they both great fighters, but they are polar opposites in terms of personality and fighting style. Diaz’s ‘I don’t give a s---’ attitude is the perfect contrast to St. Pierre’s squeaky-clean reputation.

Diaz is as exciting a fighter as there is in MMA. He will meet you head on and beat you at your own game to prove a point. He comes to fight every time and immediately gets in his opponent’s face.

His last three appearances saw him play towards his opponent’s strengths, giving Daley, Noons and Evangelista (Cyborg) Santos the stand-up wars they wanted. Sure he ended up submitting Santos, but it wasn’t Diaz who took the fight to the ground.

He’s exactly the kind of guy to push St. Pierre, who looks to minimize risk in his fights. St. Pierre always says he strikes with the grapplers and grapples with the strikers, but it’s been ages since we’ve seen him take a chance in the octagon.

St. Pierre would likely stick to what he’s good at and look to exploit Diaz’s undeveloped wrestling skills. But Diaz is dangerous on his back and has a way of breaking guys down with his high punch output and by mixing his strikes to the head and body.

St. Pierre’s wrestling and athleticism would certainly make things tricky for Diaz. But let’s face it, Diaz is probably the last guy in the sport to quit when put in a tough spot.

Melendez vs. LW Champ

Following his destruction of Kawajiri, Melendez wasted no time in proclaiming he’s the top 155-pound fighter in the world

“I know I’m not the UFC champion, but I’ve been around this sport a lot longer than Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard,” Melendez said in the cage. “If you look at the past and what I’ve accomplished, I’ve accomplished more.

“Not to take anything away from those guys. They’re great fighters. I’m just trying to represent my organization and my team.”

It’s hard to argue those points.

Melendez has fought all over the world and beaten a number of top lightweight fighters. He’s also avenged his only two losses – decisions to Josh (The Punk) Thomson and Mitsuhiro (Endless Fighter) Ishida.

He also stacks up well on paper with both Edgar and Maynard.

A strong wrestler who owns a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, Melendez has also developed his striking over the years and would prove a tough test regardless of where the fight could end up.

Overeem vs. Dos Santos

There’s no denying that Alistair (Demolition Man) Overeem challenging current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez would make for a great fight.

But call me selfish for preferring to see the Strikeforce heavyweight titleholder and 2010 K-1 kick boxing world grand prix winner take on the best striker the UFC division has to offer, Junior (Cigano) dos Santos.

Besides, since Overeem is busy this year with the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix and Dos Santos is in a title shot eliminator with Brock Lesnar, it could work out both guys end the year holding their respective championships.

If all the right pieces fall into place, this would make for one hell of a fight to kick off 2012.

Overeem to face Werdum

Strikeforce has confirmed the fight card for the next leg of its heavyweight grand prix tournament.

Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum will take place June 18 in Dallas and will feature a headlining bout between heavyweight champion Alistair (Demolition Man) Overeem and Fabricio (Vai Cavalo) Werdum. Josh (The Babyfaced Assassin) Barnett will meet slugger Brett (The Grim) Rogers in the co-main event.

The winner of Overeem-Werdum will advance to the semifinal to face Antonio (Big Foot) Silva, who defeated Fedor (The Last Emperor) Emelianenko via TKO in February. Meanwhile, Sergei Kharitonov, who knocked out Andrei (Pitbull) Arlovski, will step into the cage with the victor of Barnett-Rogers.

Two tournament alternate bouts will also be held. Chad (The Grave Digger) Griggs will take on Valentijn (The Python) Overeem and undefeated heavyweights Daniel Cormier and Shane Del Rosario are set to square off.

The former face of women’s MMA, Gina (Conviction) Carano, will also return to the ring on the card. An opponent has yet to be named.

Sonnen breaks his silence

After months of keeping quiet, former UFC middleweight title challenger Chael Sonnen has finally broken his silence.

Sonnen, who was handed a $10,000 fine, two years probation and forced to give up his realtor’s licence after pleading guilty to money laundering charges, appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. Sonnen maintained he didn’t profit from the alleged fraud, but is fine with the sentence.

“I was a real estate professional; I had a license,” he said. “That means whether I knew or didn’t know, I should’ve known.

“Listen, this is what men do. We take responsibility for our (mistakes), and that’s what I did.”

Sonnen also said he’s ready to return to the UFC and is prepared to answer to Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer in order to get his fighter’s license reinstated.

“I need to clear the air with him and, more importantly, I need to clear it on the record. My takeaway from the meeting with Kizer was not, ‘We don’t want to work with you again.’ It was simply, ‘There’s been some mistakes. Our reservation is you’re going to repeat them.’

“That’s not going to happen, but what he wants to do is give me an opportunity to speak on the record so that we can get everything recorded and written down and make sure we don’t do those things again. If I was in Kizer’s shoes, I wouldn’t demand anything less.”

Fight between Henderson and Fedor in works

A dream fight between Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan (Hendo) Henderson and Fedor (The Last Emperor) Emelianenko is in the works.

Henderson’s title won’t be on the line as the two are expected to meet in a catchweight bout.

In an interview with MMA Fighting, Henderson’s manager Aaron Crecy said the PRIDE and UFC veteran would face Emelianenko in any weight class.

“Dan has indicated he’d love to have the fight and he hasn’t shied away from that,” Crecy said. “He’d love to have the fight, and have it at heavyweight. He’s happy to challenge Fedor there.

“Dan admires the guy and feels it’s a challenge he’s wanted to take for a long time. He’s embraced the possibility of it for a long time.”

The article goes on to cite an unnamed source “with knowledge of the situation” who claims Emelianenko’s camp, M1-Global, has offered a catchweight of 220 pounds.

The fight likely will take place some time this summer.


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