Saturday night's UFC on FOX in San Jose is headlined by a highly anticipated matchup of champions in a lightweight title bout. The last man to be called Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez faces off against UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson.
This meeting will realistically find out who is the best lightweight in the world, but it is a battle of another pair of lightweights that has people talking just as much.
San Jose's Josh Thomson (19-5-0) returns to the UFC after an eight-year hiatus and takes on Stockton's Nate Diaz (16-8-0), who is back in the octagon after a loss to Henderson in December.
Not only is this a bout for Northern California bragging rights, but it's also part of a rivalry that runs deep. Thomson fights out of American Kickboxing Academy while Diaz is part of the Gracie Fight Team. These two Northern California training gyms have had run-ins in the past and have become a well-known rivalry in the world of mixed martial arts.
It's a rivalry that goes beyond just the cage and really took off during the Thomson-Melendez trilogy in Strikeforce. UFC on FOX 7 opens a new chapter between the two fight camps. This chapter will belong to Thomson and Diaz.
It is a matchup that pits a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt and outstanding boxer in Nate Diaz against a world-class wrestler and kick boxer in Josh Thomson. Both fighters have shown the ability to work for advantages while the fight is on the ground and are capable of throwing strikes while on their feet. The telling sign in this bout will be how Diaz handles Thomson's wrestling, but the two are pretty evenly matched in that art as well.
The two are evenly matched when it comes to takedown accuracy and defense. Thomson finishes about 40% of his attempts, while Diaz only finishes 25% of his. Both fighters have great takedown defense. Diaz defends against 44% of his opponent takedowns and Thomson stops 55%.
When Diaz has fought wrestlers in the past, he's been known to have some trouble, specifically in his last bout against Henderson, who's an aggressive wrestler and mat technician.
But what works in his favor, is having a training partner that has gone 15 rounds with Thomson. Melendez's input could be the reason to believe Diaz has an above average chance to win this fight.
With that said, Thomson and his coaches have likely put together a plan for Diaz that he has not seen or prepared for. Thomson is not an one-dimensional fighter by any stretch of the imagination. His opponents are well aware of his striking ability. Both fighters have high outputs while on their feet, but Thomson has landed 48% of his strikes over his career while Diaz lands at a slightly lesser rate at 43%.
With plenty of eyes on the main event title fight, and rightfully so, Diaz and Thomson could easily put on the best fight of the night all while flying under the radar.
Nitesh Dutt is a Production Assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt.