UFC 166 comes to you live at the Toyota Center this Saturday in Houston, Texas. Featured on the main card is an interesting match up between #2 ranked lightweight and former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and UFC veteran of 18 fights as well as The Ultimate Fighter Season One winner Diego Sanchez. In terms of rankings this match up is rather odd, by stylistically this has “Fight of the Night” written all over it.
On a technical level, it appears Melendez (21-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) is leaps ahead of Sanchez (24-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC). Melendez has shown his striking prowess time and time again and has more recently shown his defensive wrestling against Henderson, executing his game plan almost perfectly though losing a somewhat controversial split decision. Sanchez, on the other hand, is not as calculated and is known for blitzing his opponents trading blows and lulling his opponents into his type of fight.
However, such a strategy will not work against Melendez who has faced enough high caliber strikers to know how to handle Sanchez’ aggression. While most of the fight will likely remain on the feet, Sanchez will have to mix it up with his threat of a take down to land flush on the more technical striker should his aggression and blitz prove to be ineffective. Much like in the Kampmann fight, Sanchez has shown that he’s prone to getting picked apart by technical striking (even though he was given the decision win based off of his aggression and ability to drag Kampmann into a brawl) which is something Melendez, one of the more calculated strikers in the division, excels in.
Should the fight hit the mat, no one fighter holds a significant advantage over the other. It would simply come down to who works harder to keep it there and who can be more effective with their top control. Melendez has only earned one submission victory in his 24 fight career, and while Sanchez has earned 9 submission victories not one of them has taken place in the UFC let alone against ranked opponents – a submission from either fighter would be a surprise.
Another surprise would be if either fighter got finished – Melendez has only lost three times, all by way of decision, and Sanchez five times, four times by decision and one by TKO (which was the result of a cut after a vicious 5-round beat down from B.J Penn). Both fighters have proven to be very durable having been in some serious wars in their mixed martial arts career.
Prediction: Gilbert Melendez def. Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision.
While this is sure to be an exciting fight, I simply cannot see a single area that Sanchez will be able to best Melendez in. Melendez was able to nullify the wrestling of Henderson so he should be able to do the same against Sanchez, he was able to nullify the Jiu-jitsu of Aoki so he should be able to do the same against Sanchez, and he has shown that he is a calculated and precise striker which will prove very effective against a ‘swing-for-the-fences’ type of striker in Sanchez. The Xfactor in this fight is, of course, the determination, heart, and aggression of Sanchez which is backed by his inhumane ability to absorb punishment. However, I believe that those things will only prevent Sanchez from being finished in this fight – I see him being on the receiving end of a very one sided beat down.