This Saturday Night: Benson Henderson vs Gilbert Melendez

We’re finally here. Later tonight on Fox (7:00 CST), the two top lightweight titlists in the world will finally meet inside the cage. It’s been something that we’ve been anticipating for years and yet, it almost feels like it sneaked up on us.

Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez (21-2) has been in a odd place. Almost stranded in a border of acknowledgment; you have some enthusiasts that can tell you all about his career in Shooto, PRIDE, and Strikeforce.

On the other side of that frontera, you have fans that wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a line-up – even if he was wearing an “El Niño” t-shirt.

Melendez is the last, highly-ranked fighter left who built his aura around defeating Japanese fighters. He shot up through Sherdog’s top ten lightweight rankings by defeating the likes of Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri y Mitsuhiro Ishida.

Not everyone agrees with Melendez’s ranking. Unos dicen que Melendez’s resume is overrated and he will finally be exposed once he fights with top UFC contenders on a consistent basis.

Like Helwani and others have alluded to, it wasn’t too long ago that the reigning UFC lightweight champion was in a similar position. Battling inside la jaula azul, Benson Henderson (18-2) thrilled WEC fans with memorable scraps against Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis.

But critics would say, “How good are these gueys from the WEC?”

Since entering the UFC, Henderson has proved that he’s an elite lightweight. Within two years, he’s secured six wins with zero defeats. While I thought he should have lost the second bout with Frankie Edgar, he’s managed to built up a resume that includes wins over the aforementioned Edgar, Nathan Diaz, Clay Guida, Jim Miller, and Mark Bocek.

Now it’s Melendez’s turn to prove whether or not he is truly in Henderson’s class. It’s so fitting that this fight will be taking place in San Jose, California. Even though the last official Strikeforce event was in January – to me – tonight’s title fight feels like the true spiritual end of the organization that Melendez called home.

Comparing their recent resumes, Henderson comes out ahead by a significant margin. However, a resume will only tell you about their accomplishments.  It won’t tell you how competitive and tight this head-to-head fight has the potential to be.

Es una pelea dificil para analizar. We’ve seen Henderson take on boxer-wrestlers before and have great success against them. With Jim Miller he took him down and bashed him over with some golpes brutal. Against Edgar, we saw more of a stand-up fight, and he did enough to win over the judges in both those affairs. I’m sure Henderson has seen Melendez’s last fight with Thomson. If he sees thinking what I’m thinking, I imagine Henderson will do what Thomson did and get el takedown.

Para Melendez, it’s going to be a tough fight for him. I don’t think he’s ever fought anyone quite like Henderson – un fuerte luchador with some good clinch-work, hard legkicks and great submission grappling. The legkicks could be an issue for Melendez but I think keeping it a stand-up based fight would be the ideal situation for the challenger. Because being on your back, on the mat, getting codos in your face doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend a Saturday evening.

Estos vatos are on the verge of cementing their legacy. There is still not one consensus “greatest of all time” at lightweight. Some say that it’s BJ Penn, but I feel his actual championship reign was too short lived. Will one of these two be the one to finally carry that distinction?

If Henderson or Melendez have what it takes, now is the time to prove it.

“You got it, take it away.” – Johnny Canales

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