The first champion vs. champion bout in the UFC since Saturday’s Strikeforce finale has already been set.
UFC lightweight belt-holder Benson Henderson will defend his belt against Gilbert Melendez, the longtime 155-pound Strikeforce champion, in the main event of UFC on FOX 7 on April 20, the organization announced Tuesday.
Also on the card, Strikeforce Grand Prix heavyweight tournament winner Daniel Cormier will take on former UFC champion Frank Mir. Cormier is coming off a win Saturday over Dion Staring, who was brought into Strikeforce for the final show.
Mir and Cormier were set to meet in Strikeforce last year, but Mir was injured. After Cormier defeated Staring by second-round submission at Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine, the unbeaten 33-year-old called out Mir.
The April event will take place at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, the headquarters of the departing Strikeforce MMA promotion and site of the majority of its events during its seven-year run.
The headlining matchup is not a huge surprise. Melendez (21-2) has been considered by many to be the best lightweight outside the UFC for years now, and he is from California’s Bay area. The 30-year-old is currently on a seven-fight win streak but hasn’t fought since last May when he defended his belt against Josh Thomson.
Melendez was supposed to put his Strikeforce title on the line one last time Saturday against Pat Healy, but he remained sidelined with a shoulder injury.
The 29-year-old Henderson (18-2) has won six straight fights, including two successful belt defences, his last a decision over Nate Diaz at the last show on the network, UFC on FOX 5 on Dec. 8.
"Gilbert Melendez is one of the toughest fighters on the planet," Henderson said in a statement. "I’ve said over and over that I just want to fight the best in the world. I don’t care in what order I face them, but I want to fight the best in the biggest fights.
"He has been the Strikeforce lightweight champion, and is going to be real hungry in his first UFC fight."
In other UFC news, injuries continue to take a toll on the Jan. 26 televised card in Chicago.
Middleweight Michael Kuiper is on his fourth opponent in the form of former All-American wrestler Josh Janousek (8-1) who follows Thiago Bodao, Caio Magalhaes and Buddy Roberts.
Sweden’s Magnus Cedenblad has also been forced out of his planned middleweight bout with Rafael Natal. Sean (Black Magik) Spencer is his replacement.
(With files from THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NOTES: Mike Goldberg’s absence from the UFC broadcast booth will not be an extended one. UFC officials said Tuesday that the longtime pay-per-view play-by-play man will be back alongside colour commentator Joe Rogan on Jan. 26 for UFC on FOX 6: Johnson vs. Dodson.
He missed UFC 155 on Dec. 29 and was replaced by Jon Anik, who does the calls for the smaller shows on FX and FUEL TV, including this Saturday’s event in Brazil. It was reported that a health issue played a role in Goldberg being subbed for the year-end show, but he is returning after missing just the one event of his regular duties as the UFC’s “A” team in the booth.
Fans will have to wait an extra week before buying tickets for Georges St-Pierre’s next fight. Tickets for UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz on March 16 in Montreal will go on sale next week, not this week as originally expected. As usual UFC Fight Club members get first crack on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 10 a.m. ET, followed by UFC newsletter subscribers on Friday. The sale to the general public for the event at the Bell Centre, which sees St-Pierre defend his welterweight belt against Nick Diaz, begins at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 26 … The UFC also announced Tuesday that tickets for April 27th’s UFC 159: Jones vs. Sonnen will go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 10 a.m. ET, with the usual pre-sales on Monday and Tuesday. Jon Jones defends his light-heavyweight belt against Chael Sonnen at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.