When the WEC officially merged with the UFC in December of 2010, no one could’ve predicted the success the now defunct promotion’s lightweight stars would experience inside the Octagon. Because the UFC didn’t have bantam or featherweight divisions, the lightweights were the only ones to merge with a previously existing division.

Former WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson is now the king of the stacked UFC lightweight division. Anthony Pettis, the man who took Henderson’s belt in what was the last fight in WEC history, is still near the top of the ladder and awaiting his shot at the title, and Donald Cerrone is also on the brink of title contention.

Rising stars Anthony Njokuani and Danny Castillo both honed their skills in the WEC and are a combined 6-3 in the UFC—with one of Njokuani’s losses coming at the hands of Castillo. The feel-good story of UFC 146 saw Jamie Varner, a former WEC champion, earn a TKO victory over previously unbeaten Edson Barboza in his return to the Octagon.

It’s far too often that fighters in other promotions get overlooked in the rankings and in general due to the belief that all of the best fighters in MMA call the UFC home. Most of this misconception is due to the fact that the spotlight shines the brightest upon those in the Octagon.

Especially in the lighter weight classes, top-tier talent is spread throughout the world. Over the weekend, Dream, a MMA promotion based in Japan, announced it would be closing its doors. Dream’s misfortune will be the UFC’s gain, as one of the top bantamweights in the world, Bibiano Fernandes, will be making his Octagon debut at UFC 149 next month. Tatsuya Kawajiri, Michael Chandler and Jussier Da Silva are other big names who fly under the radar because of the fact they’re not in the UFC.

Arguably, the biggest names not currently in the UFC are Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold and Gilbert Melendez, who all find themselves in a remarkably similar situation to Henderson, Pettis, Cerrone et al. in the WEC days, as they fight under the Zuffa umbrella, but call Strikeforce home. Critics constantly say they’d be middle of the pack at best if they were to fight in the UFC.

Luckily for Cormier, he’ll have the opportunity to showcase his skills sooner rather than later as the heavyweight division in Strikeforce has been dissolved and merged into the UFC. The former Olympic wrestler recently won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and will fight one more time under the Strikeforce banner against a to be determined opponent.

Unfortunately for Rockhold and Melendez, their future is uncertain.

Rockhold, who won the middleweight belt after a unanimous decision victory over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in 2011 and has successfully defended the belt against UFC vet Keith Jardine, will face Tim Kennedy next month in his second title defense. Should he come out victorious, there is no one left on the relatively depleted Strikeforce roster that would prove to be a legitimate contender.

Melendez, on the other hand, is already in a position where he has cleaned out the division. Seemingly the only guy in Strikeforce that has proven to be a legitimate threat to Melendez is Josh Thomson, who the champion has already fought three times. Although the rubber match between Melendez and Thomson could be considered to be a controversial decision, there’s really no need to entertain the thought of a fourth match-up. B.J. Penn was offered a fight with Melendez, but turned it down because he considered Strikeforce to be a drop in competition. Many consider Melendez to be amongst the top three lightweights in the world, but as long as he’s confined to Strikeforce he will not be granted the opportunity to cement his place as the No. 1 lightweight in the world.

With the success the WEC veterans have felt and with talent going unnoticed in Strikeforce, the UFC needs to seriously consider the idea of cross-promotional super fights.

Rather than have Cormier make a useless appearance in order to fulfill a contract when all of his heavyweight brethren have already made the move, have him face off with Junior dos Santos and unify the Zuffa heavyweight belts.

Rockhold may have some work to do before earning a UFC title shot, but that’s not reason enough to deny him the opportunity to fight the best and the likes of Michael Bisping, Mark Munoz or Vitor Belfort.

With the current logjam in the lightweight division, there are more than ample choices for a super fight with Melendez. Having guys like Cerrone and Pettis throwdown with him would be a great way to weed out the top of the division.

It’s only a matter of time before Strikeforce joins the WEC as a thing of the past, so why delay the inevitable? Give the fans what they want, create the super fights and let the fighters show why they deserve to be considered the best in the world.

Photo: Gilbert Melendez (R) battles Josh Thomson (Esther Lin/Strikeforce)

About The Author

Paige Berger

Relatively new to the sport of MMA, Paige is a life long athlete. She attended the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y., where she was a pioneer member of the women's ice hockey program. She also excelled in softball and soccer before deciding to focus on hockey. Born and raised in New York, she is an avid Yankees fan. Currently residing in Las Vegas, a move she made after falling in love with MMA while training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., she is currently studying public relations and advertising at UNLV.