They have spent nearly an hour engaged in combat with one another. Now, Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson appear poised for a rubber match.
Thomson was far from spectacular -- he admitted as much -- but nevertheless put another check in the win column with his unanimous decision over K.J. Noons in the Strikeforce “Tate vs. Rousey” co-main event on Saturday at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Takedowns, a suffocating top game and a near-submission in the third round carried Thomson past the former EliteXC champion as Melendez sat nearby.
The two lightweight standouts first met in June 2008, when Thomson put together a masterpiece of a performance and swept all five rounds on all three scorecards in a unanimous decision. A year-and-a-half later, Melendez exacted his revenge in a memorable 25-minute war of wills that some viewed as the “Fight of the Year” in 2009. “El Nino” has maintained his stranglehold on the Strikeforce lightweight championship ever since.
A third bout between the two seemed inevitable at the time but never materialized. “The Punk” was slowed by injuries, and Melendez cemented himself as one of the world’s premier lightweights, posting victories over Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Jorge Masvidal. After Thomson’s triumph over Noons, it looks as though one of Strikeforce’s defining rivalries will finally be resolved.
In wake of Strikeforce “Tate vs. Rousey,” here are six other matchups we want to see made:
Ronda Rousey vs. Sarah Kaufman: Rousey quieted the skeptics, as she answered some adversity and submitted Miesha Tate with a first-round armbar to capture the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight championship. The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist has faced five opponents as a professional mixed martial artist, and she has submitted them all with armbars. Kaufman, who once held the 135-pound crown, wants nothing more than to get her hands back on the gold. The Canadian took a majority decision from Alexis Davis on the undercard, bashing her opponent with straight punches in a memorable three-round slugfest. The “Rowdy” one beckons.
Miesha Tate vs. Alexis Davis: Tate and Davis fell short of their intended marks. Considering the shallow nature of the women’s division, a matchup between them feels like a natural fit, provided Tate’s arm was not too badly damaged in her ill-fated encounter with Rousey.
K.J. Noons vs. Caros Fodor: Noons will likely always struggle to stay afloat against high-level grapplers like Thomson. However, his crackling standup skills make him eminently watchable, as few fighters in the sport can string together combinations with such violent precision. That being said, Noons has now lost three times in his past four appearances, and he will need to post a victory or two if he wants to remain relevant in the 155-pound division. Fodor struck a major pothole in his third-round submission defeat to Pat Healy. The AMC Pankration standout entered the cage on streak of five consecutive wins, but he could not stay on his feet and ultimately succumbed to Healy’s relentless pressure. Both Noons and Fodor have questions to answer before they move forward. Let them attempt to do so against one another.
Kazuo Misaki vs. Tarec Saffiedine: Misaki did just about everything right in his first appearance on United States soil in more than four years, as the 2006 Pride Fighting Championships welterweight grand prix winner beat British striker Paul Daley at his own game en route to a split decision. The Japanese veteran becomes an immediate person of interest at 170 pounds.
Saffeidine wanted a rematch with Tyron Woodley for the vacant Strikeforce welterweight championship but was passed over in favor of UFC castaway Nate Marquardt. The highly skilled Belgian lacks a dance partner, and Misaki could certainly fill that void.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Derek Brunson: Souza has limited options at 185 pounds, unless Strikeforce can secure the services of someone like Mamed Khalidov or elects to have “Jacare” sit tight until the expected showdown between Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold and Tim Kennedy goes down. Souza was originally booked to face the unbeaten Brunson, but a failed eye exam -- the Ohio commission does not allow fighters to compete while using contact lenses -- nixed the bout and left the five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion to face journeyman Bristol Marunde. He won by third-round submission. With the top of the middleweight division tied up, matchmakers may have to revisit the less-than-ideal Souza-Brunson pairing.
Lumumba Sayers vs. Lorenz Larkin: Sayers backed up his 28-second knockout of Antwain Britt and submitted the shopworn Scott Smith with a first-round guillotine choke, winning for the fourth time in five outings. Tag him as a one-man welcoming committee for Larkin, who announced plans to drop to 185 pounds following his reality-check encounter with former light heavyweight champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in January.