Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) went back to the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., last Sat., night (April 20, 2013) for its UFC on FOX 7 broadcast television event, headlined by a lightweight championship match-up pitting reigning 155-pound kingpin Ben Henderson against former Strikeforce division titleholder Gilbert Melendez (full results and play-by-play here).
The promotion's trip to the "Shark Tank" was not without purpose.
That's the venue that hosted some of the biggest fights in Strikeforce history (like this one). It should come as no surprise then, to learn that all four of the main card contests featured one top fighter from Scott Coker's old roster, taking on an established UFC veteran.
Hence, this card was unofficially dubbed "UFC vs. Strikeforce."
This wasn't just a gimmick. It was a chance for the incoming talent to prove that not all of the world's best fighters were shacked up in UFC, just as the WEC imports were looking to prove they were just as talented as anyone in the world when they were absorbed by big brother back in early 2011.
Ben Henderson certainly proved that.
Things got off to a raucous start on FOX when The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7 graduate Matt Brown took on UFC sophomore and short-notice replacement Jordan Mein. It was an "Immortal" beating in their "Fight of the Night" performance and quickly sent the visiting team up 1-0.
The kids from San Jose got it back in a big, big way.
Josh Thomson, no stranger to gold with his former employer, blew the doors off Nate Diaz in the second fight of the televised main card, thanks to a nasty head kick that toppled the previously unfinished Stockton slugger. Relentless ground-and-pound soon followed, as did a bonus for "Knockout of the Night."
"DC" came with a gameplan and stuck to it. A few frenetic flurries, followed by a cageside mugging that had the boo birds singing in unison. Repeat ad nauseam. It wasn't the prettiest of victories, and did little to rattle the cage of Jon Jones, but it was an effective -- as well as dominant -- performance (watch it again here).
It was now up to "Smooth" to send this one into overtime, or at least force a tiebreaker using the preliminary card.
"El Nino" didn't make it easy, coming out strong and taking advantage of a relaxed champion. The tables started to turn in the latter part of the fight and Henderson did just enough to squeak by with a split decision win over Melendez in a fight that was close enough to go either way (see the video here and judge for yourself).
And that's a fitting end to the UFC vs. Strikeforce debate.
The Strikeforce fighters are not -- and were not -- second class citizens, standing in the shadows of their UFC peers. Instead, they were every bit as talented and entertaining as the Octagon elite, proving it in tonight's performances in front of millions of viewers.
It was to shut down the competition and bring its best fighters into the fold. Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson proved they are top 10 -- if not top five -- in the lightweight division while Daniel Cormier is exactly what he was inside the Hexagon, and that's an immediate contender for the 265-pound strap.