Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez did exactly what Dana White hoped they would do at UFC 166. They put on a 15-minute fight that showed how talented Melendez is, and he won. For Sanchez, he got a bonus for a fight that he wasn’t supposed to win, and White needed him to lose.
Sanchez, who once fought for the lightweight title, has moved onto a different stage in his career. He is the Roy Nelson of the 155-pound division. His job is to fight against more talented fighters and get beat up for 15 minutes, but make sure the fight goes the distance. White loves to show off his talented fighters right before they get a title shot to build up a fan base.
Nelson was thrown in the Octagon against Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir and recently Daniel Cormier for one reason — to get beat up but entertain the crowd. All three of those fights went to decision and Nelson lost them all unanimously. Every once in a while, the UFC throws him a bone and lets him fight Matt Mitrione and Dave Herman to keep him relevant, but his job is to lose exciting fights.
Five of Sanchez’s last eight fights have won Fight of the Night. He is always entertaining, and the only time he has ever been stopped is because of a cut against B.J. Penn in the fifth round of their title fight. 14 of his 19 UFC fights have gone to decision, including 10 in a row. When Sanchez fights, you know it is going all three rounds and that fans will love it.
This gave Melendez a chance to show his skill set to the UFC fans for a full 15 minutes against an inferior opponent. The quality of entertainment the fight provided will give him the backing for a title shot against the winner between Anthony Pettis and Josh Thomson.
White has to love the way this has played out because Melendez has a longtime rivalry with Thomson. They have fought three times and all three have gone to decision, with Melendez winning the last two. Pettis is 2-0 against Ben Henderson, so a third fight isn’t likely. If Pettis wins, Melendez will provide a brand new challenger for him, and White can move Jose Aldo up to 155 and have him fight Henderson in a no. 1 contender match.
The only guy that loses in this is T.J. Grant. He was named the no. 1 contender after knocking out Gray Maynard, but an injury took him out of the fight and Pettis took his place. Grant was supposed to fight Pettis in December, but after suffering a concussion in training, White replaced him with Thomson. Grant has only beaten one top-10 fighter in the division and may end up missing his opportunity to fight for the title.
The amount of talent in the lightweight division makes it the most competitive in the UFC. This division has improved more than any others with the guys from Strikeforce coming over, and the UFC will be able to mix and match fights for the next couple of years.