Gilbert Melendez got the job done, but it was clear-cut by no means.
The reigning Strikeforce lightweight champion retained his crown via split decision Saturday night in the co-main event of Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Cormier” at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., edging rival Josh Thomson in their rubber match on Showtime.
Despite the decision being booed by some fans in attendance, “El Nino” was confident that he deserved the hard-fought victory.
“I feel good. I know I won that fight. I know Josh was huffing and puffing a lot more than I was,” Melendez (Pictured, file photo) told Showtime Sports after retaining his title. “I wasn’t really tired. I just couldn’t let the inner beast out for some reason.”
Though both men kept a measured pace in the early going, the lightweights turned up the heat as the contest wore on, exchanging crisp shots standing when they weren’t battling for position in the clinch. While the Cesar Gracie pupil managed to plant Thomson on the mat several times, “The Punk” quickly escaped to his feet in each instance.
“It’s tough [to hold Thomson down]. It takes a lot of energy,” said Melendez. “I think if I had done more takedowns and made him get up more that it might have been easier, but it’s tough to hold a guy down.”
Thomson appeared to gather momentum in a closely contested third stanza and changed gears in the championship rounds, taking Melendez’s back in frame four before rallying in the final five minutes with a hard right straight and a slick takedown.
Although the pair’s third clash proved the most competitive of their encounters on the scorecards, Melendez said he has little interest in facing Thomson four a fourth time down the road.
“I won the trilogy. This was supposed to be the end of this,” stated Melendez. “Everybody was like, ‘Let’s settle this once and for all.’ Didn’t we settle it? [Laughs] If you guys want to pay me triple or double, we’ll talk.”
Though universally regarded as one of the sport’s top 155-pound competitors, Melendez must once again turn toward the short list of viable Strikeforce challengers. When asked what will come next, the 30-year-old champ said he would face whomever the promotion places in front of him.
“You guys tell me [whom to fight next],” said Melendez. “I’m proud to be a part of Showtime and Strikeforce. I’m going to keep holding the throne.”