The pressure mixed martial artists often face can be daunting, but the self-belief many of them possess is impossible to measure, and come Saturday night, at UFC on FOX 7: Henderson vs. Melendez in San Jose (which will air on Sportsnet ONE), a few inspirational performances could see the landscape of a few divisions changed dramatically.
“And…NEW…UFC lightweight champion…”
It’s not an impossibility, nor would it surprise many, if those were the words Bruce Buffer uttered once the main event concluded. “Challenger” — yet champion — Gilbert Melendez has been the best lightweight outside of the UFC. Now he has the opportunity to prove he is the best in the UFC and in the world. The task at hand: Zuffa 155-pound kingpin Benson Henderson, who, fight by fight, is inching his way up the pound-for-pound rankings.
Henderson has not lost once since 2007 (a loss in the WEC to Anthony Petis in 2010), and is undefeated since migrating to the UFC. He’s been on a tear, but can be beaten. While I do give him the edge, Melendez has more than enough skills to be the kryptonite to Benson’s armor.
The second coming of “The Punk”
In 2004, Josh Thomson suffered his first loss in the UFC. His record was still a winning one at 2-1, but the organization folded the lightweight division, and the California native was forced to take his services to Japan and back home in the U.S. with Strikeforce. For the next eight years, along with Melendez, he wreaked havoc in the lightweight division, but never in the UFC. In fact, his last bout was vs. “El Nino,” a split-decision loss, and many believe he actually won the bout.
Now he takes on Nate Diaz, the last man to contest for the UFC title. Nate was defeated by Henderson, and has long maintained that his teammate Melendez is the best lightweight in the world. While styles make fights, and I believe Diaz has the edge in this bout, Thomson has long proved that if he is injury free on fight night, he is arguably one of the most dangerous men in the division with the skills to defeat the best of the best. If he pulls off the victory on Saturday night, he will be within arm’s length of a UFC title shot. Get ready -- because this might just happen.
The Alpha Male Gate Keepers
While it’s sort of a twisted definition of what a true MMA gate keeper is, it appears as if the top three fighters at Team Alpha Male have to continue to block any other fighter in their division from leapfrogging them and getting a title shot. Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes are all in what often appears to be no-win situations, or at the very least, limited spoils with every victory they garner.
Faber, who just defeated bantamweight Scott Jorgensen, also defeated Eddie Wineland, but the latter was able to go around “the gate” by defeating two other guys to now get a shot at interim champ Renan Barao.
Faber’s two teammates on this weekend’s card who have already fought for UFC belts, flyweight Benavidez and featherweight Mendes, arguably remain the two top contenders in their respected divisions. Problem is, like Faber, they have lost to the champions of their weight classes, which is Latin for the UFC not giving them another title shot anytime soon. So what does this mean? Keep winning, and maybe you’ll get a title shot. But if you lose, well...
Benavidez is taking on Darren Uyenoyama, a serious threat at 125 pounds and must not allow him to get close to champion Demetrious Johnson. Benavidez seems to have the keys to another title shot, but the door is locked -- and that lock is Uyenoyama.
The same can be said for Mendes, who’s won two straight bouts since losing to Jose Aldo, Jr. The combined time for his wins: two minutes and 26 seconds. While the opponents were not highly-ranked fighters, he now has a stiff test in Darren Elkins, who many are realizing is a quality 145-pounder. Elkins has nothing to lose, while Chad has a ton of potential “money” on the line.
Should Joseph and Chad lose this weekend, the flyweight and featherweight divisions will see some new blood infused into their respective title pictures. It’s hard to imagine these two guys will both lose on the same evening, but stranger things have happened.
Saturday’s UFC event is a solid one, and could see some serious upsets go down at The HP Pavillion in San Jose. And if they do, business will pick up in a variety of divisions.