Gilbert Melendez (21-2 and winner of his last 7) is challenging for the UFC Lightweight title Saturday on a high profile, nationally broadcast card - and realistically one win away (plus a Jose Aldo victory this summer) from a rare UFC 'superfight'. He's also ranked the consensus #2 LW in the world, but still a 2-1 underdog. I don't know if the distance is really that great between Ben Henderson and rest of the 155'ers in the world, so I spent some time looking at Melendez's past fights and history in San Jose.
Here's what he's got:
- Most championship fights in the Strikeforce history (10)
- Most successful title defenses in the Strikeforce history (6)
- Most consecutive title defenses in the Strikeforce history (4)
- Most wins in the Strikeforce history (11)
- First WEC Lightweight Champion
With Strikeforce officially closed for business, MMA fans are lucky to see a new crop of fighters migrate to the UFC. The WEC has clearly offered some talent (looking at you Jose Aldo and Ben Henderson), and it's exciting to speculate similar heights for incoming Strikeforce fighters. Daniel Cormier is interesting since he'll end up filling out a thin Heavyweight division or possibly dropping weight to challenge a dominant champion in Jon Jones. Gilbert Melendez is entering a completely different situation in that his division is arguably the deepest in all of MMA, and most seem to agree he'll be a big fish swimming into a much bigger pond. Ok, fine - let's compare the competition's competition then:
Opponent strength (measured only up until their match with said fighter) (multiple meetings counted only with most recent rematch):
Gilbert Melendez's Opposition - 258-76 (334 total fights) 77.25% win percentage
Ben Henderson's Opposition - 173-55 (228 total) 75.88% win percentage
Jose Aldo's Opposition - 218-64 (282 total) 77.73% win percentage
Frankie Edgar's Opposition - 169-27 (196 total) 86.22% win percentage (I was surprised, but Maynard's, Aldo's and Sherk's records really make the difference here)
It's clear to me that Melendez has faced at the very least, 'adequate' opponents. I don't think his past fights were easy by any means, although it can always be argued that longtime Strikeforce fighters can tend to avoid the world's best in their weight class. Let's look at his toughest contests and best wins:
This is an aside but I suggest watching Melendez vs Guida. It really seems to be Melendez's coming-out party as he wins the Strikeforce LW Belt in an entertaining brawl. Here, I'll save you some Googling time:
Since he's on the same card, and many opinions about Melendez are being based off this specific fight, I'll just leave his rubber match with Josh Thomson here as well:
Melendez has fought in California 14 times - 9 of those being at the HP Pavillion in San Jose. If you didn't know - that's exactly where Saturday's card is being held. He's won 8 of those 9 matches, the sole loss being a decision to Josh Thomson. Ben Henderson has fought 4 times in California - never in San Jose. I suppose this FOX event will be the definition of 'home field advantage', if you believe such a thing exists in MMA. I'd have to think that fighting almost 40% of the time in the same place has to make things a tad easier when stepping into the spotlight.
He's the new guy, he's the challenger and he's the mostly unknown underdog. However, after looking a bit closer it seems that the spotlight is coming to Gilbert, and not the other way around.