Saturday's long long long awaited rematch between Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce lightweight title should be a great fight. Their first match was an epic battle that saw Thomson use an conventional strategy -- using his front kick as a jab to keep Melendez out of punching range -- to take a dominant five round decision.
But Thomson has basically been on the shelf since then with a freakish series of leg injuries that have kept him out of action for 18 months.
Meanwhile Melendez has seemingly regained his early form that saw him go 13-0 before dropping a tough decision to Mitsuhiro Ishida on New Year's Eve 2007. But he emphatically avenged himself by beating Ishida down for a TKO win in the rematch at last August's Strikeforce: Cyborg vs Carano show.
Melendez talked to Ray Hui about the fight:
"Josh took it to me in that fight every round," Melendez said. "Now I'm going to be more prepared. If we're both prepared it's going to be a battle. Yeah, I think you learn a lot from that fight, and the main thing I learned is that I want to be a fighter. If I want to be a fighter, I got to bring my 'A' game, every time."
Melendez, who entered the 2008 fight against Thomson with a record of 14-1, was considered one of the top 10 lightweights in the world and the favorite at the time (and still today) to beat Thomson.
"More than anything I just want to perform better than I did last time," Melendez said. "I think Josh is right. I am a different man. It's been a year-and-a-half and it's almost been two years. It's also been two years for Josh so I know he's a better two-year fighter as well."
Both fighters have dropped in the rankings since the first match, Thomson due to his injuries and Melendez hasn't re-established himself in the minds of fans since losing to Ishida and Thomson. The USAT/SBN Consensus MMA Rankings currently have Thomson at #24 in the world among lightweights and Melendez is rated more highly at #13.
But this begs the question -- with #2 lightweight Shinya Aoki apparently ducking out of a long-rumored New Year's Eve Dynamite! bout with #9 Tatsuya Kawajiri to fight the winner of Thomson/Melendez for the Strikeforce belt in early 2010, will Strikeforce/DREAM be able to press home their claim to have the best lightweight division in the world? They've got 4 of the top 10 lightweights and 5 of the top 15 and if they absorb Sengoku, they'll have 12 of the top 25 in the world.
But I'll let Michael David Smith speak for me on this topic:
At the very start of 2009 we had WAMMA awarding their lightweight title to Shinya Aoki for beating Eddie Alvarez, and now as we approach the end of 2009 we have a Strikeforce lightweight title bout between Thomson and Gilbert Melendez that they're doing their best to portray as a world championship fight. In between I've heard various suggestions that the lightweights in other promotions are better than the lightweights in the UFC.
But does anyone really believe that? I think everyone who really looks at it objectively -- or everyone except WAMMA -- agrees that UFC champion B.J. Penn is the best lightweight in the world, and even after Penn, I have a hard time seeing the lightweights in Dream or Strikeforce or Bellator beating the second tier of UFC lightweights, like Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez and Gray Maynard.
Strikeforce has some good lightweight fights, and so do Dream and Bellator. But the best are in the UFC.