Henderson outlasts Melendez in instant classic

Henderson outlasts Melendez in instant classic
April 20, 2013, 7:30 pm
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Benson Henderson (left) fights Gilbert Melendez (right) during the lightweight championship bout of the UFC on Fuel TV. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Nitesh Dutt

With incredible prelims now done it was difficult for some to believe that there were more fights on the way, but there was. As the lights dimmed and The Who's music began to play it was evident that the main card was about to begin and it was now up to the eight fighters on the main card to continue the excitement that the prelim bouts had helped build.

Matt Brown and Jordan Mein would kick off the four-fight main card in welterweight action. Brown had been scheduled to face Dan Hardy, but Hardy had to pull out due to a medical condition. In stepped Mein who was making his second UFC appearance.

The opening round picked up exactly where the prelims ended. Both men came out throwing anything they could and it seemed like one solid shot would end quickly. Brown took a slight edge after the round due to near submission and more effective striking. The second-round was more of the same. Brown quickly got control and when he had Mein's against the cage, Brown landed solid elbows that forced the referee to stop the fight. Brown continues his dominance at 170 pounds and wins his fifth straight fight.

Brown's TKO victory kept the crowd hyped, but it didn't take much for the crowd to stay involved as two of Northern California's best were next up.

AKA's Josh Thomson made his return to the UFC after an eight-year hiatus to take on Gracie Fight Team's Nate Diaz. It would begin a new chapter in a long-standing rivalry between the two fight teams and would add a new contender to the UFC's lightweight division.

It was a bout that was not just lightweight vs. lightweight, but it was Diaz's 209 vs. Thomson's 408 and both areas came out in full force to represent for their fighter. And, these two gave the fans all they could hope for. The two started off standing with neither really looking for a takedown and the crowd loved it. Thomson was more of the aggressor and controlled the round even though he backpedaled for most of it. He was doing what he needed to win and it showed in the first.

In the second things changed slightly. Diaz played the role of the aggressor, but didn't seem able to take advantage of his size advantage over Thomson. But, Thomson used everything in his arsenal to take control of the fight. With about a minute left in the second round Thomson landed a head kick that shook Diaz and dropped him. Thomson pounced and unloaded on Diaz until his corner, then the ref, stopped the fight. After eight-years away, Thomson was victorious in his UFC return.

Not only was it Thomson's first UFC victory in eight years, but it was the first time ever that Nate Diaz had been defeated via KO/TKO in his professional career.

As loud as the crowd was for Diaz vs. Thomson, things reached another level as two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir welcomed Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion Daniel Cormier into the octagon.

Cormier has began his career on an eleven fight win streak, but made a huge jump in competition as he took on Mir. From the walkouts alone it was obvious which fighter was coming out with more energy. Cormier ran to the cage as Mir strolled. It's two different attitudes and two different fighters that took to the octagon in San Jose.

This three-round heavyweight bout did not have the normal thrash talk or bantering, but when the Mir and Cormier stepped into the cage it was evident that they wanted to fight. For three rounds, the two went at it. Testing strength versus strength, inevitably ending up against the cage with Cormier in control.

It was not the bout many envisioned, but DC did deliver in his UFC debut by defeating the former champion Frank Mir via unanimous decision (30-27 x 3) and improves to 12-0 as a professional.

All the excitement and energy built up until the heavyweight bout decimated to an extent, but UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson and Former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez were primed to end this night on a memorable note.

Henderson came in riding a six-fight win streak while his opponent, Melendez, was riding a seven-fight win streak. It was streak vs. streak, champion vs. champion and another UFC vs. Strikeforce bout on this night.

The crowd was significantly pro-Melendez as the San Francisco fighter was making his UFC debut. There were boos scattered in with the cheers for the champion, but Henderson was understandably walking into hostile territory.

Melendez, who had all the fan support a fighter could imagine, came out determined and taking advantage of every opening he could find. It wasn't an eye-popping, dominant round but it was enough to take a 10-9 lead on the scorecards. Henderson kept things at a steady pace as the second round began, but it did not faze or change Melendez's game plan at all.

Henderson went into the third-round arguably down two rounds to none and Gilbert looked like he was getting stronger as the fight went on. Midway thru the third, Melendez began to land more efficient shots that hurt the champion, but didn't drop him.

The last two rounds were ones for the ages as both competitors left all they had in the octagon. There wasn't a lot of technique, but every move that was made was done so in malicious intent and the idea of inflicting as much pain and damage as possible.

This fight was as evenly matched on paper as one could be and it played out that way. As the final round ended, it was unclear to decide who had won the fight. Both men raised their hands in victory, but only one could walkout of San Jose as champion.

People tend to not like MMA judges, but it is arguably one of the hardest jobs in the sport. On this night it was incredibly difficult. The final judges' decision went to Benson Henderson who retains his lightweight title via a split decision.

Like many of the past lightweight title bouts, this one will be controversial and discussed for many months to come. But, for now Henderson remains UFC champion and Melendez goes back to the drawing board. Melendez earned tremendous respect and proved he deserves a spot in the UFC. What the future holds for El Nino will be interesting to see, but it is sure that he'll be back in title contention very soon.

Nitesh Dutt is a Production Assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt.