LAS VEGAS – Now that the fate of Strikeforce has been determined, the fates of many of its marquee fighters are starting to trickle out.
For lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, that could wind up meaning an instant title shot against UFC champion Benson Henderson.
UFC President Dana White on Thursday told a small group of reporters following a pre-event news conference for UFC 155 that Strikeforce's top fighters will be making their way to the UFC now that the promotion officially will fold following its final show – a Jan. 12 card in Oklahoma City.
And while White had to temper his quick reaction to Melendez by leaving open the possibility that anything could happen, it could be good news for Melendez.
"(Melendez will) probably come right in and get a title shot," White said. "Again, we'll see."
White expressed his disappointment for how many Strikeforce fighters' past year has been. The promotion had to cancel a pair of fall events, and if fighters on the roster aren't booked for the final show in January on Showtime, their fates may have been up in the air.
But along with the official news of Strikeforce's final show came several fight bookings for upcoming UFC shows with Strikeforce fighters crossing over, including Derek Brunson, who fights Saturday at UFC 155 to open the pay-per-view card against Chris Leben.
"What has happened to the fighters in Strikeforce is horrible," White said. "The way this thing went down is horrible, and they've been very patient. What's happened over there has been completely s---ty."
Melendez (19-2 MMA, 11-1 SF) has been Strikeforce's lightweight champion, either in interim or unified form, since 2009. He owns seven straight wins in the promotion, all title fights. He most recently fought in May, when he defended his title in a trilogy fight with Josh Thomson.
He was set to defend it in September against Pat Healy. But when an injury led to the cancellation of Strikeforce's show in Sacramento, Calif. He found his way onto the Jan. 12 show in the main event, also against Healy. But when he wasn't ready to return from the injury rehab, he again was pulled.
If he does find his way into an immediate title shot when he officially comes to the UFC, it could be at the detriment of either Donald Cerrone or Anthony Pettis. Those two former WEC lightweights meet at UFC on FOX 6 in January, and it has been widely believed that the winner will get the next shot at Henderson, who defended his title against Nate Diaz earlier this month.
But no time frame for Melendez's first UFC fight has been determined, so if the injury keeps him out further into 2013, it's still conceivable that the Cerrone-Pettis winner could fight Henderson, with Melendez getting a shot later in the calendar year in what would presumably be a title unification fight for the UFC and Strikeforce belts in the same type of way the UFC held title unification fights with former PRIDE champions.
Regardless of what might happen, White said he's glad the battle of Strikeforce, the lines of which primarily were drawn along the broadcast partnership with Showtime, is finally over.