Gilbert Melendez has long been established as one of the world’s best at 155 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Much of the uncertainty that was surrounding the future of Strikeforce was put to rest in the days leading up to UFC 140, when Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White announced the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion was on the verge of inking a new deal with Showtime. While that has little bearing on Strikeforce “Melendez vs. Masvidal” on Saturday, it does mean that Zuffa LLC must keep the Strikeforce cupboard stocked with decent talent.
Melendez might be the most highly regarded fighter on the current roster, and he will put his skills on display in a lightweight title defense against Jorge Masvidal at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. UFC officials figure to be plenty interested in Melendez’s performance, so he will want to put on a good show.
Also of note is the return of women’s featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who has not fought since June 2010. She will look to cement her status as the most dominant female in the sport today in a title defense against Hiroko Yamanaka. Here is a look at Strikeforce “Melendez vs. Masvidal,”
with analysis and picks.
Strikeforce Lightweight Championship
Gilbert Melendez (19-2, 9-1 SF) vs. Jorge Masvidal (22-6, 4-0 SF)
The Matchup: In recent months, there has been plenty of speculation that Melendez was going to vacate his Strikeforce lightweight title and make the move to the UFC to challenge Frankie Edgar. With Edgar locked into a bout with Ben Henderson, that move will have to wait for now. In the meantime, “El Nino” can bolster his credentials by beating Masvidal, an American Top Team product who dissected K.J. Noons in his last outing.
Masvidal is a well-rounded foe who is not to be underestimated. A solid counterpuncher, “Gamebred” is adept at mixing leg kicks, as well as knees and elbows in the clinch, into his arsenal. His multi-faceted approach paid dividends against Noons, who possesses some of the most polished standup in mixed martial arts today. Masvidal was able to blend takedowns with jabs and batter his opponent on the ground, and Noons was a bloody mess by the end of their three-round encounter.
Melendez is one of the best-conditioned lightweights around, built to go the distance in a five-round fight, something he has already done four times in his career. In earlier years, the Californian’s standup was merely a prelude to a takedown. Now, he can trade punches comfortably in the pocket without being overmatched. However, with more weapons at his disposal, Masvidal figures to have the advantage on the feet; Melendez has a solid jab but does not have the type of power that would deter the challenger from attacking.
What El Nino can do is set a frenetic pace inside the cage that virtually no one can match. His improved standup allows him to set up takedowns better than ever, and, on the ground, he usually wins the battle in scrambles and transitions. When faced with a dangerous grappler like Shinya Aoki, Melendez was able to pressure his opponent and land punches while staying out of danger.
Masvidal is competent on the ground, but he will be better off keeping the fight upright, where he can try to keep Melendez at a safe distance. It will simply be too draining for the Bellator Fighting Championships veteran to match wits with Melendez on the mat, especially if the fight advances to the championship rounds. If Masvidal tires, Melendez can impose his will with elbows and ground-and-pound.
Masvidal is an experienced fighter with victories over respected veterans like Joe Lauzon and Yves Edwards. He knows what he is doing in the cage, so perhaps he can bait the champion into a brawl, where Masvidal would have a distinct edge. However, Melendez has made a career out of escaping bad positions, and he is too smart to fight out of his element for very long.
The Pick: This is an audition for Melendez. While an invitation to the UFC is a foregone conclusion, another victory likely makes him the No. 1 contender in waiting for the winner of Edgar-Henderson. A loss drops him into the middle of a talented 155-pound pack. Masvidal might be able to get the best of some standup exchanges in the early going, but, eventually, Melendez’s remarkable work rate is going to be the difference maker. As Gamebred fades, Melendez wins by submission in the fourth round.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Cristiane Santos vs. Hiroko Yamanaka