UFC 166 fight card: Gilbert Melendez vs Diego Sanchez fight preview

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Gilbert Melendez found a game opponent for Saturday night in Diego Sanchez. Can "El Nino" put an end to this "Dream?" Check out our UFC 166 preview below!

This Saturday night (Oct. 19, 2013) lightweights Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez will square off on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 166: "Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3" from Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

The mixed martial arts (MMA) bout promises to deliver one of the most hard-fought contests of a very stacked card.

Melendez -- the former Strikeforce lightweight champ -- made his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut in a title fight last April, dropping a closely contested split decision to Ben Henderson at UFC on FOX 7. Finally appearing in the Octagon after a slew of injuries, Melendez appeared to have the early rounds in his favor, but ultimately waned toward the end. The No. 2-ranked "El Nino" will be looking to prove that he still belongs in the title discussion, but he'll have no easy task in the experienced Sanchez.

Sanchez was last seen winning a close decision over Takanori Gomi at UFC on FUEL TV 8. It was "Dream's" return to the lightweight division after going 2-2 in a stint at welterweight. Despite his relatively pedestrian record at 170 pounds, Sanchez managed to churn out three impressive "Fight of the Night" performances in four bouts. He'll be looking to continue that trend at UFC 166.

It's going to be a barnburner in Texas this weekend. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez:

Gilbert Melendez

Record: 21-3 overall, 0-1 UFC

Key Wins: Josh Thomson (Strikeforce: Evolution, Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier), Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pride Shockwave 2006, Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley)

Key Losses: Benson Henderson (UFC on FOX 7), Josh Thomson (Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Thomson)

Keys to Victory: Melendez has been fighting almost solely for titles since June 2006. This fight against Sanchez is a step down in competition that has become unfamiliar territory for Melendez. He'll be fighting an unranked opponent that is nonetheless very dangerous.

For that reason, Melendez will need to be focused and sharp. He's an extremely polished and well-rounded fighter who has significant skills in all areas of MMA. Melendez has preferred to dispatch his opponents by knockout, with 11 to his name. But he also has a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and has shown to be a very proficient wrestler.

Sanchez exhibits a similar set of skills, and neither one of these fighters shies away from a war on the feet. Melendez should look to utilize his crisp boxing to outland Sanchez in the striking department. When takedown attempts come his way, Melendez has the ability to defend them with a high success rate.

"El Nino" only has one submission victory on his record and Sanchez has never tapped out, so a Melendez submission victory seems very unlikely. Given the skill level and experience of these two world-class lightweights, a hard-fought decision seems the most likely outcome. If Melendez can keep a high volume of combinations churning and use some offensive wrestling to further score points, he'll notch his first victory in UFC.

Diego Sanchez

Record: 23-5 overall, 12-5 UFC

Key Wins: Nick Diaz (TUF 2 Finale), Clay Guida (TUF 9 Finale), Martin Kampmann (UFC Live 3)

Key Losses: Jake Ellenberger (UFC on FUEL TV 1), B.J. Penn (UFC 107), Jon Fitch (UFC 76)

Keys to Victory: Sanchez burst onto the UFC scene way back in 2005 as part of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 1. Since then, he's dropped two weight classes and fought a veritable who's who of UFC talent.

He looked a bit out of shape when he showed up overweight in his return to lightweight against Gomi. Many thought that Gomi won that fight, but Sanchez got the nod. It's going to be nearly impossible to eke out a similar decision against Melendez. "El Nino" will show up in shape and ready to put forth a large volume of varied strikes.

Because of that, Sanchez's conditioning will need to be vastly improved at UFC 166.

Sanchez can pull off the upset if he can take control of the wrestling game. It won't be easy, but if Sanchez can score a few takedowns and land some shots on top, he might find a way to win two valuable rounds. That's probably what it's going to take as Melendez has never been finished.

Sanchez is no slouch on the feet, but he'll give up the advantage to his opponent. To win, his kickboxing will have to be noticeably more refined than the skills he exhibited against Gomi. Sanchez has also been recovering from various injuries that held him to only one fight in each of the past two years, so he obviously needs to be healthy to attain victory in Houston.

Sanchez has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and has won nine fights by submission. Against Melendez, a submission win would be monumental, but it can't be considered much more than a dark horse way to win at UFC 166.

This fight promises to be a war and Sanchez will have to match Melendez strength for strength. If he can turn the tables on Melendez and gain a dominant position, Sanchez has the chance to show up on the lightweight top 10 rankings.

Bottom Line from Houston: The bottom line on this fight is that it has the potential to be the best fight of the night -- if not one of the best of the year. Both Melendez and Sanchez have an extreme propensity for putting on inspired wars and to expect anything less at UFC 166 would be foolish.

When you have two great fighters with loads of experience and similar skillsets, they can tend to cancel each other out. That should be far from the truth here, but it will hinge on Sanchez's health and conditioning. He's an inspired fighter with unstoppable heart, but you can't help but wonder if the weight cut may be affecting him in the later stages of his career.

For his part, Melendez is undoubtedly going to show up motivated and at the top of his game. The bad taste of his loss to Henderson still lingers, so he'll look to erase that with a big statement win. He took a risk in accepting a fight against a tough but unranked opponent, so a victory will be crucial.

This fight will be fueled by an intense will to win from both sides. It has "Fight of the Night" written all over it, but there are some great bouts to contend with this weekend.

Melendez will earn another big fight with a victory here, while Sanchez can announce his presence as a contender if he can pull off the upset.

Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez promises to be quite the heated war at UFC 166. Let us know your pick of who will come out on top in Houston!

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