Dana White says UFC title shot likely for Gilbert Melendez; reflects on Strikeforce

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

LAS VEGAS -- There's potential good news on the horizon for at least one Strikeforce fighter coming out of the company's impending demise.

According to UFC president Dana White, there's a strong chance Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez will challenge counterpart Ben Henderson in the former's UFC debut.

"It will probably come right away," White told reporters Thursday at the MGM Grand. "We'll see."

Melendez is as synonymous with the Strikeforce brand as any fighter. He competed on the company's debut MMA event on March 10, 2006 in San Jose, Calif., then won his first Strikeforce lightweight title on their next show with a win over Clay Guida. Melendez holds the company record for successful title defenses (six) and overall wins (11). Henderson, meanwhile, made his second successful defense of his UFC title on Dec. 8, in a unanimous decision over Nate Diaz.

Strikeforce will close its doors after a Jan. 12 card in Oklahoma City, less than two years after Zuffa purchased its largest remaining competitor.

The relationship between Zuffa and Strikeforce's broadcast outlet, Showtime, was a rocky one. Strikeforce's biggest name, Fedor Emlianenko, was already well into his career decline; and stars like Nick Diaz and Dan Henderson jumped ship to the UFC. Lacking in enough marquee talent to fill out a full Showtime fight schedule, Zuffa canceled Strikeforce events scheduled for September and November.

White disputed the idea Zuffa bought Strikeforce simply to kill it off.

"I see a lot of s-- on the internet and stuff, 'they bought it to bury it,' and all that stuff. Any of you guys who were around me during that time, that was absolutely not the plan. I was pumped up about it and looking forward to get into it, but, it's over, man. I'm just happy it's over."

The UFC's head honcho refused to take the bait from reporters when asked about his relationship with Showtime. Instead, he said he simply removed himself from the equation.

"I literally took myself out of this thing 100 percent," White said. "I have nothing to do with this. Big picture stuff I'm involved in, and I'm involved in pieces and parts that I want to be involved in."

As Strikeforce's fate twisted in the wind, so too did the careers of the company's fighters. White indicated that not everyone on the roster will have jobs in the UFC, but he said he empathized with their plight.

"What has happened to the fighters in Strikeforce is horrible," White said. "The way that this thing went down, and what's happened with these guys, these guys have been very patient, and I'm sorry for them, and I'm happy that they're coming over to the UFC now. ... What's happened over there has been completely s--."

Zuffa has a history of purchasing competing fight promotions with mixed results, from the World Fighting Alliance to PRIDE to World Extreme Cagefighting to Strikeforce.

"None of the companies we bought were perfect except for the WEC," said White. "The WEC was great, a great move, great transition, everything worked out with that. But all the other ones, they were what they were."

And while Strikeforce's history under Zuffa won't go down as a positive like the WEC, White won't rule out further purchases, should the opportunity arise.

"Never say never," he said.

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