Sat Dec 19 11:33pm EST
It figured to be a war for the Strikeforce lightweight title and this time Gilbert Melendez wasn't going to underestimate Josh Thomson's kicks. Melendez worked on his standup game, patience and varying his strikes over the last 17 months. Melendez made marked improvement in his two fights during 2009 while Thomson kept having to pull out of the rematch with ankle and foot issues. The improved striking game of Melendez and ring rust on the side of Thomson was just enough to allow "El Nino" to grab a unanimous decision win, 49-47, 49-46 and 49-46. The five rounder has to be one 2009's 10 best fights. Melendez regained the Strikeforce lightweight title that he lost to Thomson in June of 2008.
"I feel great," said Melendez, who works out of Cesar Gracie's camp in Northern California along with Jake Shields and the Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate. "I just wanted to perform better than I did last time. I sparred better for this fight than I did for our first, but Josh is the toughest guy I’ve fought and the toughest guy around.’’
Thomson missed all of 2009 and at times it showed. He came out like gangbusters in the first three minutes but faded a bit at the end of the first round. Melendez's combinations took over the fight in rounds 2-4. He scored often by doubling and tripling up jabs and then following with a leg kick that would crush Thomson's lead leg. Melendez's hands looked faster and more accurate when the fighters engaged in many wild exchanges.
"I stopped walking into it," Melendez said when asked what he did differently. "I was sick of going to 24-hour Fitness and seeing the random guy telling me how to correct my kicking defense. I wanted to make him miss a little. There was a point where I wanted to come stalk a little and I walked in and he threw that push kick right in my face. It was a reminder."
Thomson said Melendez's adjustments were perfect.
"He was the better fighter tonight. He made sure that everything was fixed from the first fight. His timing was on. He threatened the takedown. He delivered what he had to do to beat me tonight."
Melendez landed the biggest punch of the fight towards the end of the second when he dropped Thomson with a right uppercut. Thomson also said he was hurt badly in the fourth. A Melendez right hand buckled Thomson's legs.
Even though he lost his title, Thomson didn't lean on the excuse of inactivity after the fight.
"He was the better fighter tonight. I don't want people making excuses for me. Right now it's Gilbert's moment. He had a [expletive] wonderful moment tonight. I'm definitely proud of him. He came back like a true champion does and you know what? He got his title back."
There has to be a third fight in the future. But before that it sounds like Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker wants Melendez (17-2) to face Japanese phenom Shinya Aoki possibly on CBS in April. If healthy, Thomson (16-3) may draw former EliteXC champ K.J. Noons in the first quarter of 2010.
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