Melendez is a top five fighter with nothing left to prove in the division as it stands right now. He's beaten Masvidal, Shinya Aoki and Josh Thomson, three of the best lightweights outside of the UFC, but there's no signed fighter in the division who has truly earned the right to face one of the best. Sure there are fighters like KJ Noons and Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante with some name value, but both of those guys have won exactly one fight in a row.
Solution: Bring someone over from the UFC to fight him. It doesn't have to be the champion. Bring one of the many quality guys over to challenge him. I have just the guy. He's a big name, he can bring attention to the promotion, and he offers the instant credibility that only a former UFC champion can provide. Bring over BJ Penn to fight Melendez.
Right now, Penn is on a break from fighting. He's home in Hilo, Hawaii spending time with his family after his hard-fought loss to Nick Diaz in October. But Penn does plan to fight again, and he even said that he'd be willing to rematch Diaz.
That's not going to happen, as Diaz has moved on to preparing for a big interim UFC welterweight title fight with Carlos Condit. So we need to find something that excites Penn, something that motivates him. Regardless of the skeptics who still refuse to believe that Melendez is for real, Penn knows the truth, that Melendez is for real and has a set of skills that would provide a challenge. Because of that, a bout with Melendez might interest him. As an added bonus, Melendez comes from the same Team Cesar Gracie as Diaz, making the marketing of the fight simple. BJ Penn comes looking for revenge against Diaz's teammate.
Penn loves fighting for belts, and as long as Frankie Edgar is the lightweight champ, Penn is stuck. He isn't going to get another shot against Edgar after losing to him twice. The same holds true for his chances of getting a welterweight title fight. He's already lost to Georges St-Pierre twice and Diaz once, so his chances of earning his way back for another title bout anytime soon are slim. So where does that leave him? He's in a legend-at-large role, looking for interesting matchups wherever they might appear. And is there really anything in the UFC that is so much more interesting than Penn-Melendez?
Let's face it, Penn would be one of the biggest stars ever to fight in the Strikeforce hexagon, with only Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko able to rival his popularity. He's a former two-division champ in the UFC, every MMA fan knows him, and his presence would certainly bring attention to the promotion. Just as importantly, it would illustrate that Zuffa is serious about Strikeforce.
Just last week, White promised that Strikeforce wouldn't be a B-league, or a feeder system for the UFC. They would go after top talent, he said. They would find a way to make Strikeforce's best fighters happy, he said. That would mean leaving Melendez where he is, and bringing talent to him. This match would prove that White meant what he said.
The biggest hurdle in this plan would be making it worth Penn's while. Because Strikeforce is on Showtime and not pay-per-view, the pay scale is different, and White would have to dig into his his pocket to make him whole.
That investment would be worth it for Zuffa, to show that they are truly committed to Strikeforce as its own promotion. It's one thing for White to say it on a conference call, it's another entirely for him to send over a UFC legend. That's a statement. That's a promise kept.
BJ Penn would be just the fighter to satisfy White's promise, fan interest and Melendez's ambitions. Melendez doesn't just need a legitimate challenge, he deserves one.