Two champions battled for supremacy last night (April 20, 2013) as UFC lightweight champ Ben Henderson took on Strikeforce titleholder Gilbert Melendez in the main event of UFC on Fox 7 in San Jose, California.
Melendez had looked a bit unmotivated in his last two fights, turning in a pair of ugly title defenses in Strikeforce as competition waned, but there was no better motivation than making your UFC debut in your former Strikeforce home of the HP Pavilion against the UFC champion.
"El Nino" got off to a hot start, pushing the pace and connecting with power every time Henderson tried to get anything going either with his punches on the feet or with his powerful kicks.
Melendez countered Henderson heavily, punishing him for every opening and scoring with his crisp boxing, particularly his powerful right hand.
By the second round, Melendez had bloodied up the champion's nose and it looked like an upset may be brewing, but that was the point where the UFC champion started to wake up.
Henderson's output increased in round three, and with both fighters evenly trading on the feet, it was a huge flurry by the "Smooth" one after knocking the Strikeforce champ down with a leg kick that helped him seal the deal. Unfortunately for Melendez, he got some terrible advice from his corner who told him he was up three rounds to none despite both rounds two and three being hotly contested.
In the fourth, Henderson really went to work with not only his powerful low kicks, but his lead left elbow, which he looked to initiate nearly every striking engagement with. By this point, Melendez was almost purely looking to counter and he surrendered a bit of cage control to the UFC champ. Making matters worse was the fact that Melendez's pace and output had slowed down.
In the fifth and final frame, Melendez's corner told him he needed to try and win the round to guarantee the win, which was the right thing to do. Melendez was more aggressive to start and finish the round, but he wasn't landing as much as he would have liked and Henderson blasted him with a few good elbows and kicks in response.
When the bout went to the judges' scorecards, it was entirely up in the air as the only definitive round in the whole bout was Melendez clearly taking the first frame. That wouldn't be enough for "El Nino" as the judges would side with Henderson via split decision with three 48-47 cards being turned in. It was a fitting end to an absurdly close fight.
For Gilbert Melendez, he put on a great show, particularly in the beginning of the fight when his punches were crisp and he was the aggressor. He made Henderson bleed for the first time inside the Octagon and that's definitely something he can hang his hat on. What he didn't do well was the fact that he surrendered control of the fight at times to Henderson, allowing the UFC champ to dictate the pace particularly from rounds three and four and that helped him get back into the fight and catch up on scorecards. Scoring with his punches was his biggest advantage going in and he needed to keep doing it in the latter half of the fight, but he fell off a bit and that allowed Henderson to take a rather large lead in the significant strikes department.
Melendez wasn't really dangerous anywhere except his punches. His elbows and leg kicks were seldomly thrown at best and when his punches stopped having that same snap on them that they had in the first two rounds, Henderson was able to barely seize the fight.
While a rematch would be nice, Melendez will have to work his way back to a title shot. Potential opponents include the loser between Jim Miller and Pat Healy, Joe Lauzon or perhaps the upcoming Gray Maynard vs T.J. Grant loser.