It's never an easy day to be an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight. The 155-pound Top 10 is constantly in motion, with high-level mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters always vying to be on the championship contender short list. From year to year, a fighter could be at the peak of their careers, and the next, they could fade into obscurity.
In a sense, any fight at Lightweight could make or break a future in the division. There are always hungry fighters on the fringe of a Top 10 ranking, meaning that remaining among other top contenders is no small task.
At UFC 166, which takes place later tonight (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013) at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, we'll see two men who have both had cracks at the title, one, Gilbert Melendez, defending a top spot in the division and the other, Diego Sanchez, trying to get his career back on track for another championship opportunity.
On paper, Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez fight is a clear mismatch. "El Nino" is deservedly the more relevant of the two, and his skills are notably better in just about every single area of the sport. The only thing he doesn't boast over Sanchez is an indomitable, if not slightly psychotic, fighting spirit, one that allows him to push through all adversity and even push back fighters with which he would otherwise have no business being in the cage.
This fight will almost definitely last the full three rounds. Melendez is the fighter likelier to finish the bout, if it comes to that, but for everything that can be said against Sanchez defensively, he has the heart to push right through it. Even if Melendez looks like he is taking over the fight, Sanchez will look to get in whatever he can, which will make the fight very fun to watch.
Another interesting point here is that these two men fight with very similar styles. Their striking is pressure-based, and they use their wrestling as a constant threat to their opponents in case striking exchanges stop going their way. Melendez's game, in short, is much more dynamic and effective than Sanchez's, with more polished striking and a more punishing top game. Wrestling would be the closest skill between these two, but a slight edge would still have to go to Melendez for his wrestling defense.
If you look at this fight from the outlook of who is the more skilled fighter, it is hands down Melendez's fight to lose. However, when you add in the tenacity and heart of Sanchez, this match up becomes one that could deliver the "Fight of the Night."
When these two men get into the Octagon at UFC 166, not many are expecting Sanchez to outclass Melendez. On the contrary, he'll most likely turn in a gritty performance and attempt to bait Melendez into a brawl. In fact, I have a feeling that we see Sanchez push through as usual and make this an entertaining fight, one that'll keep Melendez on his toes and get the fans out of their seats.
Expect Sanchez to once again prove that he is no easy fight, and for Melendez to once again prove that he is indeed the cream of the 155-pound crop.