For some reason, many people weren't certain that Gilbert Melendez would stand and trade strikes with Jorge Masvidal last night (December 17, 2011) while defending his Strikeforce lightweight title in the main event of Strikeforce: "Melendez vs. Masvidal" in San Diego.
In all, the 25 minute bout spent less than 10 seconds on the canvas as both men looked to showcase their striking skills.
It turns out that Melendez was more than game enough to handle his taller, lengthier opponent on the feet as he turned in a strong performance which resulted in a clean sweep of nearly every scorecard.
So what did 'El Nino" do correctly to help him earn the decision? And what's next for both fighters?
Both men had very set plans of attack and they would primarily implement them over the course of the five round battle. Melendez looked to move forward, cut off Masvidal against the fence and lead the way with his punches, either snapping his left jab or throwing big 1-2 combinations in succession. He was also looking to throw a big lead uppercut as his primary power attack, either looking to land it to the head or the body.
Masvidal, however, was able to primarily ignore the uppercut because he utilized a more upright-centered stance. He kept his hands high in a defensive position and would occasionally flash his jab, which actually did cause some swelling on Melendez's face. Masvidal's secret weapon appeared to be his jumping knee attack as he tried to catch it with Melendez about one time each round but he never caught the champion napping.
For a significant portion of the bout, the following scenario would play out: Melendez would push forward forcing "Gamebred" towards the fence and then he would lunge inside throwing 1-2 combinations. He repeatedly landed his right hand to close off the combo and whenever Masvidal would get hit, he'd showboat, dropping his hands and moving his head around as if to say, "That was nothing. The problem with this was he did it so many times that it actually could have been used by the judges ringside as proof that Masvidal had been hit hard.
This scenario basically played out for the course of five rounds. Masvidal seemed content to lose the decision, never picking up the pace despite clearly being down in every round. There were only about 6 seconds of ground time and barely any clinch as both men were content to stand. The problem is that neither man was actually able to do enough damage or land anything significant enough to make the fight compelling or dramatic. It was jab, hook, back off, 1-2, over and over and over again. The judges officially scored it 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 for Melendez to give him his third official title defense ever since he unified the belts with Josh Thomson.
For Jorge Masvidal, he proved he could hang with Melendez, but that appears all he was content on doing. Other than very few brief spurts of action, he was very defensive for much of the night. He worked his leg kicks pretty well early but the second Melendez caught a kick and took him down for a few seconds, he completely went away from them. Worst of all was that despite being down badly on the scorecards, he showed no sense of urgency whatsoever in the fifth round when he needed a home run. Instead, he actually spent the last 15 seconds of the fight pressing Melendez into the fence and looking for a takedown as if he thought he could steal the round and the fight. He either was being delusional or was getting very bad advice from his corner who told him he was winning.
Expect Masvidal to step in against someone along the lines of Gesias Cavalcante for his next bout, or perhaps fellow event loser Justin Wilcox. If he's finally healthy, they could also throw him in against former champion Josh Thomson.
For Gilbert Melendez, he put on a strong, aggressive showing but it wasn't the type of victory that will be getting people talking about him as the number one lightweight on the planet. Jorge Masvidal was number 24 in the consensus lightweight rankings. If the UFC did similar matchmaking, it would be as if Frankie Edgar took on Sam Stout for the title. One would expect a blowout, most likely a stoppage but Melendez just didn't seem like he could pull the trigger when he had Masvidal cornered. Every time the American Top Team fighter started bobbing and weaving goofily after getting hit hard, it seemed to force Melendez to back off. He should have punished Masvidal for his bravado but he simply didn't.
Who's next for a shot at Melendez's title is a mystery. If the promotion wants to give a title shot to someone from within, there are a couple options. Pat Healy is coming off a big win this past September over Maximo Blanco. Caros Fodor scored a huge 13 second knockout on the undercard last night against Justin Wilcox which gives him a 5-0 record in the promotion. Another intriguing option could be Gray Maynard, who fought for the UFC lightweight title twice this year against Edgar, drawing once and losing once. It's very unlikely he'll get another shot at the belt in the next two years so why not give him a shot against Melendez? That's about as relevant a fight as could be made but we'll just have to wait and see if it's a viable option.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Were you impressed by Melendez's strong showing, or did you want more? Why do you believe Masvidal never kicked it up a notch event as time was winding down?