Though Gilbert Melendez came out on the favorable end of a split decision in his final Strikeforce title defense, the same could not be said in his first bid for UFC gold.
In spite of an excellent effort Saturday night at UFC on Fox 7, “El Nino” could not wrest the UFC lightweight belt from around the waist of Benson Henderson, who walked away from HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., with his third successful title defense.
While the razor-thin nature of the decision quickly inspired talk of a rematch within the media, Melendez made no such demand following his difficult defeat.
“I’m not going to say that [I deserve an immediate rematch] right now. I’m just happy to be a part of the UFC, and I’m just heartbroken right now,” Melendez told Fox Sports. “I really thought [the judges would score the fight for me]. He walked forward, and I walked forward, but when I walked forward, I thought I [scored with] bigger attacks. I thought I landed the cleaner punches. He hit me, but it was all on the forehead. I left him pretty bloody, I think.”
Indeed, Melendez did bloody the nose of Henderson, as the former Strikeforce king tried to unload with power shots while the reigning champion scored with leg kicks and counter strikes. “El Nino” competed with Henderson on equal footing in both the standup and the clinch, stuffing each of Henderson’s four takedown attempts throughout the course of the bout. Nevertheless, upon reflection, Melendez still wishes he had done more to earn the judges’ approval.
“It was my chance to kind of take it more, and I didn’t. I just felt like I had the first two rounds, and I felt like I kind of kept it in the bank for the fifth. That was kind of my game plan,” said Melendez. “I knew I lost [rounds] three and four, and I really saved it for the fifth. I think I looked tired in the fourth. I thought I looked a lot more energetic in the fifth, and I thought he looked a lot more tired, but Benson is a stud. He’s very tough to hit.”