NEW YORK CITY – So it turns out there was something to those rumblings of Gilbert Melendez (20-2 MMA, 10-1 SF) vs. B.J. Penn (16-8-2 MMA, 12-7-2 UFC) for the Strikeforce lightweight title, after all.
Following today's pre-UFC on FOX 3 press conference in New York City, White revealed he tried to put the fight together but was rebuffed by Penn, ultimately leading to Melendez vs. Josh Thomson III on May 19.
White said Penn simply wasn't up for a fight at that time, though things have since changed. The UFC boss said Penn could be back sooner rather than later, and it will be at 170 pounds.
"I tried to do [Melendez vs. Penn], but it was at the time when B.J. was like, 'Yeah, I'm not fighting for a while,'" White told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
"In October, former UFC champion Penn suffered a one-sided loss to Nick Diaz, prompting "The Prodigy" to call it quits at the conclusion of the fight. Penn has yet to publicly commit to another fight, but as he did less than two weeks ago, White insists things are different behind the scenes.
"He wants to come back," White said of Penn.
While most MMA pundits believe Penn, who has held titles at both 155 pounds and 170 pounds, is best suited for the lightweight division, White said Penn will make his return at welterweight.
"I'm done with telling him where to go as far as weight goes," White said. "The guy's handled himself in both weight divisions, and if he wants to come back at 170 – plus you get to an age where cutting down to 155 just doesn't make sense anymore."
When that return could happen is still anyone's guess, but the UFC boss said Penn will ultimately make that call. In a sport where mental focus and commitment is often as important as physical preparation, White said he refuses to rush anyone back to action until he's 100 percent certain it's the right time.
"Whenever he's ready," White said. "That's up to him. Whenever he's ready. I don't ever push guys. Guys know when they're ready. Guys know when they want to come back.
"This isn't a sport where you can just say, 'I know your head isn't in it right now, but get back over here and fight.' This isn't that kind of sport. Guys let me know when they're ready to fight."
Meanwhile, Melendez's next chance at fighting a UFC athlete doesn't appear any closer. With the relationship between White and Strikeforce's broadcast partners at Showtime nearly nonexistent, he's less-than-optimistic that a peaceful coexistence will provide for any cross-promotional opportunities.
"Gilbert Melendez is a Strikeforce fighter," White said. "He's been great in dealing with it. He wants to come over here, and he wants to challenge himself against the best, and I know a lot of other people want to see it, too, but he's in that Strikeforce deal.
"The thing that sucks for Gilbert and that's disappointing is that I was 100 percent fired up and gung ho to go over there and work on Strikeforce. The whole thing fell apart. I know he's bummed out about, and other people are, too, but it is what it is. It just didn't work out.