What do you get when you pair up two of the top lightweights in the world at the peak of their careers? The UFC hopes fireworks, and this Saturday in San Jose everyone will get to find out.
UFC Lightweight Champion Benson “Smooth” Henderson (18-2-0) will defend his title for the third time, but for the first against someone on an even hotter streak than himself. The last man to be called Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (21-2-0) makes his long-awaited octagon debut right in his own backyard.
Long considered one of the best lightweights in the world, Melendez has the opportunity to prove just how great he is. Coming in to his fight versus Benson, Gil doesn’t hide the fact that he’ll be fighting with a chip on his shoulder with a lot to prove. Henderson, well aware of this, is not taking his fellow champion lightly and promises that Gil will get his best.
STREAK VS. STREAK
Melendez (seven-fights) and Henderson (six-fights) both go into Saturday riding impressive win streaks, but one will have to come to an end. Henderson’s win streak has come within the UFC and he’s defeated the likes of Frankie Edgar (twice), Clay Guida and Nate Diaz. Melendez’s streak includes Josh Thomson (twice), Jorge Masvidal and Shinya Aoki.
THE UPPER HAND
Although it is difficult to gauge which fighter will have the upper hand come fight night, it is not out of the realm of possibility to believe Melendez might have some valuable intelligence on Benson. Melendez’s close friend and training partner, Nate Diaz, just so happens to be Henderson’s last opponent. Diaz can relay information to Melendez on what tendencies, if any, Benson might have and what to expect.
These two arguably offer each other the best competition either has ever had in their careers. Melendez is taking a huge leap in competition while Henderson has an opportunity to defeat another champion. Yes Benson has faced the likes of Frankie Edgar and Anthony Pettis, but Melendez is a top-3 lightweight at the peak of his career in a division he was built for.
When time came for the weigh-ins at San Jose's California Theatre, it was evident who the Northern California crowd was cheering for. As soon as Melendez walked onto the stage the theatre erupted with applause for the San Francisco fighter. Gil weighed in at 154 pounds and seemed primed for competition. As the champ walked onto the stage, it was pretty clear that this crowd was definitely pro-Melendez. Benson came out to a scathing of boos from the top of the theatre down to the bottom.
The boos did not shake the champion as he seemed to enjoy them and kept motioning for the crowd to make more noise. It was a sight to behold as Benson understood where he was and who's "territory" he was walking into. It was, however, an odd sight when the champ stepped onto the scale. He decided to go with just the towel and weighed in at 155 pounds on the dot.
There already seemed to be tension even before the two competitors faced off for the final time before their main event. Although there was no shoving or bumping, it seemed the two did all they could from beginning to throw shots at each other.
Saturday night promises to be one of those moments in professional sports where two athletes in the prime face-off for a championship. Despite who wins this can lead to a rivalry that has never been seen in the UFC's lightweight division.
Nitesh Dutt is a Production Assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt.