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Rankings: 'El Nino' crashes the party

Yahoo Sports

Over the past several years, Gilbert Melendez told anyone who would listen that he is a Top-10 talent.

Other fighters will tell you that the rankings don't matter, but "El Nino" wears his heart on his sleeve and felt he was due recognition for his skills.

He heard the criticisms: Strikeforce didn't have a deep roster at lightweight, the company's ban on ground elbows didn't help him, and so on.

Melendez knew these critiques were about things that were beyond his control, so he did the only thing he could, given the situation: He went out and improved as a fighter. He fought whomever Strikeforce put in front of him. He took fights in Japan. Give Gilbert Melendez a chance to improve his game, and he'll take it.

The Northern California-based fighter is finally being rewarded for his persistence. In his first Strikeforce lightweight title defense under Zuffa's watch (and the first under full unified rules), Melendez went out and made a statement. "El Nino" went out and destroyed the well-regarded Tatsuya Kawajiri on April 9. Melendez's standup was as crisp as it was ferocious, as he needed only 3:14 to finish his foe.

With that, Melendez vaulted himself right into the heart of the conversation about the logjam of elite lightweights – and into the Top 10 itself. Melendez finished with 31 points, good for 10th place, one point behind Gray Maynard, who rematches Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight title on Memorial Day weekend.

Melendez's Top 10 entry was facilitated by Jake Shields' UFC 129 loss to Georges St. Pierre, which both dropped the former out of the Top 10 and didn't help the latter, either. Last month, out of 22 ballots, Silva was in first place with 14 first-place votes and St. Pierre second with eight. GSP remained in second this month, but this time out, only grabbed two first-place votes out of 21 cast. Silva claimed the remaining 19 first-place votes and garnered 207 points overall, 16 ahead of St. Pierre.


This month's voting panel: Denny Burkholder, CBSSports.com; Elias Cepeda, Inside Fighting; Mike Chiappetta MMAFighting.com and Fight! Magazine; Steve Cofield, Cagewriter and ESPN Radio 1100 Las Vegas; Neil Davidson The Canadian Press; Dave Doyle Yahoo! Sports; Ben Fowlkes, SportsIllustrated.com and MMAFighting.com; Josh Gross, ESPN.com; Ariel Helwani, Versus.com and MMAFighting.com; Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports; Damon Martin, MMAWeekly.com; Todd Martin, freelance; Franklin McNeil, ESPN.com; Brad McCray, freelance; Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports and The Wrestling Observer; John Morgan, MMAjunkie.com; Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com; Michael David Smith, MMAFighting.com; Mike Straka, HDNet; Dann Stupp, MMAjunkie.com and The Dayton Daily News;Jeff Wagenheim, SI.com.

Scoring: Ten points for a first-place vote, nine points for second, etc., down to one point for a 10th-place vote. Fighters who are under suspension for use of performance-enhancing substances or abuse of drugs are ineligible to be considered for the duration of their suspensions. Fighters who have been inactive for more than 12 months are ineligible for consideration until the completion of their next fight.

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Melendez

10. Gilbert Melendez
Points: 31
Affiliation: Strikeforce (lightweight champion)
Weight class: lightweight
Hometown: San Francisco
Record: 19-2 (won past five)
Last month's ranking: unranked
Most recent result: def. Tatsuya Kawajiri, R1 TKO, April 9
Analysis: No offense to Anthony Pettis, but no one is more deserving of the Edgar-Maynard III winner than Melendez.

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Maynard

9. Gray Maynard
Points: 32
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: lightweight
Hometown: Las Vegas
Record: 10-0-1, 1 no-contest (draw in previous fight)
Last month's ranking: 10
Most recent result: vs. Frankie Edgar, majority draw, Jan. 1
Analysis: Last time out against Edgar, Maynard went all-out in the first round, didn't finish, and ended up with a draw. Will he better pace himself this time around?

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Fitch

8. Jon Fitch
Points: 37
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: welterweight
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Record: 23-3-1, 1 no-contest (draw in previous fight)
Last month's ranking: 9
Most recent result: majority draw vs. B.J. Penn, Feb. 21
Analysis: Fitch just underwent shoulder surgery; if all goes well, he'll be back in 4-6 months.

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Velasquez

7. Cain Velasquez
Points: 75
Affiliation: UFC (heavyweight champion
Weight class: heavyweight
Hometown: Salinas, Calif.
Record: 9-0 (won past nine)
Last month's ranking: 7
Most recent result: def. Brock Lesnar, R1 TKO, Oct. 23
Analysis: An October date in Houston, likely against the Brock Lesnar-Junior dos Santos winner, is in Cain's cards.

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Cruz

6. Dominick Cruz
Points: 93
Affiliation: UFC (bantamweight champion)
Weight class: bantamweight
Hometown: San Diego
Record: 16-1 (won past seven)
Last month's ranking: 6
Most recent result: def. Scott Jorgensen, unanimous decision, Dec. 16
Analysis: Cruz and his UFC 132 challenger, Urijah Faber, are already yapping at one another. Come July 2 we should have ourselves one of the year's hot grudge matches.

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Edgar

5. Frankie Edgar
Points: 115
Affiliation: UFC (lightweight champion)
Weight class: lightweight
Hometown: Toms River, N.J.
Record: 13-1-1 (draw in previous fight)
Last month's ranking: 5
Most recent result: split draw vs. Gray Maynard, Jan. 1
Analysis:The guy with the belt is 0-1-1 against his May 28 challenger. A win over Maynard is needed to keep his top-five ranking.

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Jones

4. Jon Jones
Points: 140
Affiliation: UFC (light heavyweight champion)
Weight class: light heavyweight
Hometown: Endicott, N.Y.
Record: 13-1 (won previous four)
Last month's ranking: unranked
Most recent result: def. Mauricio Rua, R3 TKO, March 19
Analysis: One second-place vote and five thirds show many believe Jones is already knocking on Silva and St. Pierre's door. A sixth and a seventh show not everyone is convinced.

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Aldo

3. Jose Aldo
Points: 156
Affiliation: UFC (featherweight champion)
Weight class: featherweight
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro
Record: 18-1 (won past 11)
Last month's ranking: 3
Most recent result: def. Mark Hominick, unanimous decision, April 30
Analysis: Aldo looked like death warmed over on the day before his fight with Hominick, so the voters aren't penalizing him much for not winning by finish. But the competition at 145 will only get tougher from here.

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St. Pierre

2. Georges St. Pierre
Points: 191 (two first-place votes)
Affiliation: UFC (welterweight champion
Weight class: welterweight
Hometown: Saint-Isidore, Quebec
Record: 22-2 (won past nine)
Last month's ranking: 1
Most recent result: def. Jake Shields, unanimous decision, April 30
Analysis: Count me among those who think the criticism of GSP has been unfair – try fighting Jake Shields with one eye closed and report back to me on how you do – but a fight with Nick Diaz could go a long way toward re-establishing St. Pierre as an exciting fighter.

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Silva

1. Anderson Silva
Points: 207 (19 first-place votes)
Affiliation: UFC (middleweight champion
Weight class: middleweight
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 28-4 (won past 13)
Last month's ranking: 2
Most recent result: def. Vitor Belfort, R1 KO, Feb. 5
Analysis: Silva's next fight is against Yushin Okami, whose disqualification win over Silva in 2006 is the latter's last official loss. While most fans don't regard it as a "real" loss, that won't stop Silva from seeking revenge.

More:

• Votes for others: Jake Shields 24; Nick Diaz 15; Mauricio Rua 11; Rashad Evans 5; Fedor Emelianenko 4; B.J. Penn, Lyoto Machida 3; Joe Benavidez 2.

• Upcoming matches for ranked fighters: No. 5 Frank Edgar vs. No. 9 Gray Maynard, May 28, Las Vegas.

Last month's rankings

MMAWeekly's divisional rankings