Gilbert Melendez took another step on his quest to be recognized as the world’s top lightweight on Saturday night, as “El Nino” outpointed a game Jorge Masvidal to retain his Strikeforce lightweight title at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, Calif.

Readily admitting that Masvidal presented a difficult stylistic matchup prior to the bout, Melendez (Pictured; file photo) beat the American Top Team product to the punch for the majority of their five-round affair. Continually using a sharp one-two combination to his advantage, Melendez took center-cage and displayed a willingness to trade with his cagey challenger.

“I think everyone thought that [Masvidal had an edge in the standup, and I was eager to prove everyone wrong,” Melendez told Showtime Sports following his win.

While Melendez adjusted well to the bout’s vertical nature, the Cesar Gracie student stated after the fight that his preferred game plan was hindered by undisclosed issues during his preparation.

“Some things in training camp didn’t allow me to do as much wrestling as I wanted to, so I knew I would have to strike with him,” said Melendez. “I think that [Masvidal] is the toughest striker I could fight at [lightweight], and I think I might be the best striker in the 155-pound division.”

His striking success notwithstanding, Melendez did attempt to take down Masvidal on occasion. However, the takedown defense of “Gamebred” proved stout, forcing the champion to stand and bang.

“He reacted well. He’s a long, tall guy, and he reacts fast. I knew he was working hard on his takedown defense. He likes to sprawl and brawl and keep it on his feet,” said the champion. “That’s where he feels his best, and that’s the toughest matchup for me. I’m kind of the same. I’m a sprawl-and-brawler.

“Usually [if I fight] a guy who is a better striker, I’m going to take him down, and if he’s a better wrestler, I’m going to sprawl him out,” Melendez continued. “This guy was tough to take down. Ideally, it would have been nice to put him on his back, but things were going well on my feet. I didn’t think I needed to force it. I kept running with it, and things were going well.”

Now without a clear challenger on the horizon, it appears Melendez will play the waiting game while Zuffa and Showtime executives select his next opponent. Once thought to be on the fast track to the Octagon and a potential showdown with UFC lightweight titleholder Frankie Edgar, it was instead announced this week that Melendez will remain in Strikeforce for the foreseeable future.

With a super-fight in the UFC now apparently out of reach, Melendez has another option on his mind: bring the UFC’s best to Strikeforce’s hexagon.

“We’ll see [what’s next for me]. That’s on Strikeforce and Showtime and the UFC. I’d like to bring some top contenders here from the UFC. K.J. Noons looked great today and looks like the No. 1 [contender in the Strikeforce lightweight] division.

“I have faith that Strikeforce and Showtime will bring me someone tough to continue to prove myself in the sport. I’m very proud of my performance, and I’m looking forward to my next challenge.”

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