Gilbert Melendez had an exciting UFC debut, even though it was in a losing effort. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion more than held his own against then UFC champ, Benson Henderson, losing a hotly-contested five-round split decision. The loss did little to damage Melendez’s reputation as being one of the best 155-pound fighters in the world and reflects his current no. 2 ranking in the UFC’s top-10.
Melendez faces a stiff test at UFC 166 in the form of Diego Sanchez. The man now known as “The Dream” has been involved in some of the most exciting fights in Octagon history, and he knows a victory over Melendez would put him back into the title mix in the lightweight division.
His most recent fight was a decision win in Japan over Takanori Gomi . That fight marked his latest return to lightweight. Sanchez had one previous title opportunity back at UFC 107 against B.J. Penn, but was stopped in the fifth and final round due a ghastly forehead laceration.
Sanchez has moved back and forth between the welterweight and lightweight divisions in recent times with mixed results. He just can’t help being in entertaining fights, and it’s reflected in the numerous Fight of the Night bonuses he has received during his UFC career. His matchup against Clay Guida remains an all-time classic. Sanchez has never been knocked out via strikes and always shows tremendous heart and desire.
Melendez is no stranger to thrilling fights as well. His career path to finally get to the UFC has seen him fight for Strikeforce, Pride and the WEC. His Strikeforce trilogy with Josh Thomson is a memorable one for the excitement and drama that those bouts produced. Melendez took two of the three contests. “El Nino” has been in with the likes of Shinya Aoki and also fought Guida during the course of his career. He has registered 11 knockout wins.
Melendez, like Sanchez, is tremendously tough as he’s never been submitted or knocked out. All three of his career losses have been by decision.
Both of these fighters will be looking to make a statement with what would be a high-profile victory. It would definitely leave the winner on the short list as a future title challenger in the 155-pound weight class. With their respective histories of being involved in exciting battles; this truly shapes up as a tremendous fight. Both are well-matched in the striking departments and both have strong wrestling backgrounds.
On a night that should produce a number of great fights in Houston, this one could top them all for Fight of the Night honors.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports