Strikeforce Lightweight Championship
Gilbert Melendez (20-2, 10-1 SF) vs. Josh Thomson (19-4, 9-3 SF)
The Matchup: While the idea of B.J. Penn coming out of retirement to challenge Melendez for his belt sure sounded sexy, it was not meant to be. In reality, it is hard to imagine the Hawaiian heading anywhere but the Octagon if and when he does emerge from hiatus. With that dream crushed, a matchup with Thomson makes sense, especially given the limited options available on the Strikeforce roster. “The Punk” was the last man to defeat Melendez, earning a unanimous decision victory over the champion in 2008. Since then, “El Nino” has won six straight fights -- including a rematch with Thomson -- and has established himself as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
So much has changed since Thomson utilized superior striking and takedown defense to capture the first meeting with Melendez. While the American Kickboxing Academy representative has battled a multitude of ailments that have sidelined him on two occasions and forced him to alter his training regimen, Melendez has improved on his weaknesses. This was already evident in their rematch, as Melendez outstruck Thomson in every round but the first to earn a clear-cut decision.
These days, the champion is comfortable exchanging in the pocket, so much so that it is not a foregone conclusion that he will shoot for a takedown after throwing a combination. In his most recent outing against Jorge Masvidal, Melendez landed multiple two-, three- and four-punch combinations as he took a decision from “Gamebred” in December.
Thomson grinded his way to a victory over K.J. Noons in March, draining the boxer’s cardio with timely takedowns and top control. It was not an overwhelming performance, however, and, in the aftermath, Thomson referred to his performance as “s---.”
Unless Thomson has seriously altered his training routine, it is difficult to imagine an area where he will be better than “El Nino.” The multiple layoffs seem to have disrupted some of his timing, but Thomson does have a good jab that he mixes well with leg kicks and knees. Although his conditioning is solid, he will struggle to match Melendez’s pace, and, even if he is able to get the Skrap Pack product to the canvas, he will struggle to keep him there. Melendez wins the majority of scrambles and transitions on the mat, and now he can win the exchanges on the feet, as he has grown increasingly comfortable throwing his right hand.
The Pick: This bout lacks the suspense that a good trilogy should have. Melendez will land combinations on the feet, score more takedowns and win most of the scrambles. A finish would be the most impressive thing he could achieve, but Thomson has proven to be durable on fight night. Instead, Melendez settles for another lopsided decision victory.
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