Melendez Survives Late Rally by Thomson, Retains Lightweight Belt
Not surprisingly, Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson gave fight fans five rounds of high level mixed martial arts in their rubber match at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California Saturday night. But what may have been shocking to those same fans was how close Thomson came to unseating the longtime Strikeforce lightweight champion before losing an unpopular split decision.
Scores were 48-47 twice, and 47-48 for Melendez, who defeated Thomson in 2009 and lost to him in 2008. All three bouts ended in five round decisions.
“We know each other real well, and it’s a battle of the bay,” said San Francisco’s Melendez. “He’s a tough guy as always. I thought I won most of the rounds. I know he took my back in the fourth round, and the last round he took me down, but I was winning on bottom punching him; he was just holding me down. It wasn’t my best performance, but Josh is amazing, it’s all good.”
“He fought a great fight,” said a gracious Thomson. “Tonight wasn’t my night, the judges gave it to him, hat’s off to him, I give credit to him.”
Thomson looked sharp early, switching stances in order to throw the champion off, but 90 seconds in, Melendez got inside and got the takedown. After a brief spell on the mat, the two rose at the midway point of the round, fighting at a measured pace until the final seconds, when Thomson landed some body kicks and Melendez got a brief takedown.
Things heated up a bit in round two, with Thomson doing good work from long range, and Melendez answering when the fight moved to close range. With 1:54 left, an in advertent eye poke by Melendez brought a momentary halt to the action, and when it resumed, the two began trading with more frequency. Both fighters had their moments, and Melendez used the opportunity to score another takedown before finishing with some solid offense and defense, landing elbows and stuffing a Thomson takedown attempt.
Melendez came out for the third stanza with a swelling over his right eye, but that didn’t affect his forward march. Thomson was able to turn back a Melendez takedown though, and he also landed with some solid punches in the aftermath, drawing a roar from his hometown crowd. Again, Melendez was unmoved by the rally, and he continued to play the role of aggressor, scoring with some hard uppercuts that got the attention of “The Punk.”
Cardio didn’t appear to be an issue for either fighter as the championship rounds began, and Thomson made his loudest statement of the fight thus far, as he caught Melendez with some hard shots that drew blood from the champion’s left eye. A takedown by Melendez stopped the metaphorical bleeding for a moment, and when the two rose, it was back to “El Nino” stalking and Thomson trying to potshot. A sudden trip takedown by Thomson with 90 seconds left put Melendez on his back and changed the complexion of the fight immediately, as Thomson soon attempted to sink in a rear naked choke. Melendez weathered the storm though, making it to the end of the round.
With the drama high, Melendez and Thomson both looked to close the show in style, and Melendez struck first with a takedown. Thomson got back to his feet quickly, and after a brief spell of inactivity, he nailed Melendez with a right hand as he looked for another trip to the canvas. Melendez worked his jab well throughout, and a knee to the head scored as both fighters missed with takedowns. With 1:46 remaining, Thomson again complained of an eye poke, providing a quick break for both. Refreshed, if only for a moment, the two engaged, with Thomson holding the slight edge. A stuffed takedown late was followed by another leg trip by Thomson, who finished the 25 minute bout on top.
With the win, Melendez improved to 21-2; Thomson falls to 19-5 with 1 NC.
Revenge was sweet for former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, as he got even for a 2009 knockout loss against Mike Kyle by submitting his opponent in just 33 seconds, putting him right in line for a shot to regain his title.
“If Strikeforce gives me the chance, I want the belt,” said Cavalcante.
Seconds into the bout, “Feijao” missed with a right hand but immediately followed up with a right knee that sent Kyle sprawling into the fence. The Brazilian didn’t let Kyle off the hook, following up with a furious barrage of ground strikes. As Kyle began to clear his head and rise, Cavalcante sunk in a guillotine choke and pulled guard. Kyle tried to escape with a slam, but all that did was tighten the choke, forcing a tap out.
With the win, Cavalcante improves to 12-3; Kyle falls to 19-9-1 with 1 NC.
Las Vegas-based Swede Chris Spang scored a minor upset in the main card opener, halting hot welterweight prospect Nah-Shon Burrell in less than a round.
Spang scored with a head kick in the second minute, and he quickly closed the gap on Burrell before he could recover, pinning him against the fence, where the Vaxjo native looked for a takedown briefly before breaking loose. Once separated, Spang dropped Burrell with a quick left hook. The Philadelphian sprung to his feet immediately, but Spang unloaded on him as Burrell tried to hold on. An unanswered series of knees followed, and Burrell miraculously stayed upright, but when Spang released the Thai clinch, he staggered into the fence to take more punishment. Finally, after taking a few more shots and falling to the mat, referee Josh Rosenthal stepped in to halt the bout at 3:25 of the opening frame.
With the win, Spang improves to 5-2; Burrell falls to 8-2.