“I’ve studied a lot of tapes on him and one thing I’ve noticed is he’ll look for the way out. I can’t give him that opportunity. If I accidentally hit him in the nuts or I elbow him wrong I have to realize that he might try to take advantage of that and find a way out. I just have to be very careful and not give him that opportunity. It’s just something that I’m aware of and I almost would blame myself if I gave him that opportunity to get out of there. It’s definitely something that’s on my mind…The thing with Aoki is he’s a very intelligent fighter and it’s obvious you want to stay on your feet with him. Basically, you just want to keep it on your feet. Once he gets to the ground he has a great back attack, he has a great rubber guard, and you have to be prepared for all of those. As I study his tapes, I get scared of all those positions, but the closer I get to the fight I feel more confident about it. But, yeah man, just being prepared for all those positions on the ground.”

—Gilbert Melendez talking about his upcoming fight against Shinya Aoki at Strikeforce “Nashville”

This is a really tough one to call. I see Gilbert Melendez on a very similar level to guys like Eddie Alvarez and Joachim Hansen — two elite-level lightweights Aoki fought in recent years to varying degrees of success and failure. Obviously, Melendez has to stay out away from Aoki’s submission wizardry, but that’s easier said than done. Gilbert is a solid striker with great wrestling, and although Aoki is weak in both those areas, he’s incredibly crafty at avoiding the stand-up game and getting the fight to the ground. In Japan, Aoki is the obvious pick, but Melendez will have several things going for him including the cage, five-minute first rounds, fighting attire (no magic grappling pants allowed) and his home country (Aoki has never fought in the US) to even the odds. I’ll still take Aoki, but I don’t feel very good about it. Who ya got?

Image via Esther Lin for Showtime