COMMENTARY | On April 20, 2013, at UFC on Fox 7: Henderson vs. Melendez, Gilbert Melendez will embrace the opportunity to avenge the loss of his friend, Nate Diaz, and challenge for the UFC lightweight title when he takes on the current champion, Benson Henderson.
The former lightweight champion has been craving for a title shot since the San Jose based mixed martial arts (MMA) brand, Strikeforce, was officially bought by Zuffa, LLC, and merged into the UFC earlier this year. Melendez has an outstanding record (21-2), and has fought and beaten some of the very best Strikeforce had to offer. This included the likes of former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thomson, and current DREAM and One FC Lightweight Champion Shinya Aoki.
However, Melendez's friend and training partner, Diaz, fought Henderson for the UFC lightweight title at UFC on Fox 5: Henderson vs. Diaz. Henderson controlled the pace of the fight and eventually decisioned Diaz to retain the title. In a recent interview, Melendez, who also cornered his friend, responded to the Diaz loss. He stated, "When your buddies fight, you can't help but get a little emotional and passionate out there. You're bummed for your friend when he fights, and if you can back your friend up, you will. At that point I was like, 'Give me the opportunity to avenge my friend. Give me the opportunity to fight this dude.'" Melendez will have the opportunity to not just avenge his friend's loss, but to strip the title from one of the most charismatic, unorthodox fighters in the UFC.
Henderson (18-2) has a profound grappling and stand-up game. He has garnered countless Brazilian Jiu Jitsu accolades, and is also a Tae Kwon Do black belt. However, the Washington native is especially renowned for his unconventional fighting style and his ability to sustain little to no damage in accumulating victory upon victory. To that point, Henderson stated, "I'm OK with that. I don't mind that at all. I like to have performances where I don't get too beat up and don't take too much punishment. I'm OK doing three or four times a year. That's fine by me."
Henderson himself has put together a list of who's who of champions and veteran contenders he has beaten as well. This list includes the likes of Nate Diaz, Frankie Edgar (2xs), Clay Guida, Donald Cerrone (2xs), Jamie Varner, and Shane Roller. In addition, Henderson is undefeated in the UFC and was voted ESPN's 2012 Fighter of the Year by an expert panel of writers and editors.
At the same time, Melendez is a game opponent, who has never been finished, with 11 of his 21 wins coming by way of knockout. According to Henderson, he is not underestimating, nor is he looking past Melendez at UFC on Fox 7. He recently stated, "I'm definitely not looking past Gilbert. He might not have the biggest name (in MMA), and there might be bigger fights, but I know how tough Gil is. He's the Strikeforce champion and has been rated in the top-two or three on the planet."
Melendez is a complete fighter. In fact, not only did "El Niño" win the Strikeforce lightweight title twice, he was also champion of the same division in another now-defunct MMA organization - World Extreme Cagefighting.
Even more astoundingly, in his last nine bouts, all of them saw Melendez either vying for or defending a championship title. El Niño is on a seven-fight win streak, and at 31 years old, he is primed to capture gold on MMA's largest stage. Given that three of Cesar Gracie's fight team members have squandered their opportunity to become a UFC champion (Jake Shields, Nick and Nate Diaz), Melendez's task of fighting in the UFC, winning a championship, keeping a four-year unbeaten streak alive, and avenging losses of other teammates is a significant, profound, yet unenviable task.
Clinton Alexander Bullock has been a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner for many years. He has studied mixed martial arts for 12 years and has been published in the Philadelphia Sunday Sun Newspaper, Next Step Magazine, and Yahoo! News. Follow him on Facebook & Twitter @clintonbullock._________________________________________________________________________
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- Sports & Recreation
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Nate Diaz
- Gilbert Melendez
- Benson Henderson