Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce’s last lightweight champ and a top contender for the UFC belt, may be hitting the road soon thanks to stalled contract negotiations. Yes, “El Nino” is coming off a thrilling win over Diego Sanchez at UFC 166 on October 19, and sure, he fell short in his bid to take the belt from Benson Henderson by the narrowest of split decisions back in April, but as we’ve seen with Jon Fitch and Ben Askren, being one of the best fighters in a division doesn’t guarantee you a job with the UFC.

Ariel Helwani had this to report on Melendez’s future in the Octagon on last night’s UFC Tonight:

“It’s not looking good. I spoke to UFC President Dana White yesterday. He said, ‘I’m done with Gilbert. I like Gilbert very much, but I don’t like his manager.’ He has the same manager as GSP. Dana said: ‘Being GSP’s best friend doesn’t make you a good manager.’ Dana said if Gilbert wants to fight in the UFC, he should call Lorenzo quickly and he also should start looking elsewhere.”

So about this “elsewhere” thing…

If things truly do go sour for Melendez and he does have to find work with another promotion, what are his options?

  • Bellator MMA – This one is a no-brainer, and probably the place where Melendez could get the most exposure and competition. Given his credentials, it’s unlikely he’d have to enter into the grist mill that is a Bellator tournament, so Melendez would be getting paired up with a top guy right off the bat (like Patricky Freire, for instance) before entering the Eddie Alvarez/Michael Chandler cauldron of violence. And that’s not a bad thing.
  • World Series of Fighting – If Melendez wants a free belt, WSOF might be the place for him. After all, who do they have on their roster at his level? Their 155-pound champ Justin Gaethje, while very good, would be rolled up and eaten like a cheap taco bought from an old lady who sells them from a shopping cart on the side of the highway. There is literally no WSOF lightweight who could make Melendez break a sweat.
  • ONE FC – Askren went this route because, I don’t know, he always wanted to visit Singapore or something. Melendez would need to have similar reasons to join their ranks, as there’s no one there to challenge him either (he already beat Shinya Aoki pretty handily) and the exposure is minimal at best.
  • GLORY – Ha, just kidding.
  • Legacy FC/Resurrection Fight Alliance/some other regional show – Usually UFC veterans end up back in the minor leagues because they can no longer hack it in the majors. That’s obviously not the case with Melendez, although there could be some appeal to fighting at this level for him – namely, he’ll always be the star of the show, the fights will be somewhat easy, and he can make decent coin via a share of the ticket sales while keeping training overhead low. Still, this option is likely a last resort.

If Melendez does leave the UFC, where do you think he should go?