Upon the announcement that the UFC's parent company, Zuffa, had purchased Strikeforce in March 2011, many believed Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez would be one of the first fighters to leave the organization and compete inside the Octagon.
However, more than one year later, Melendez is still at the helm of Strikeforce's 155-pound class and will compete in a rubber match against Josh Thomson on Saturday night.
Despite splitting their first two meetings, Melendez is currently considered the much better fighter and potentially the best lightweight in the world.
Still, Thompson has only lost two of his past 13 fights and has the ability to mount an upset against Melendez. As we close in on this important lightweight matchup, let's take a look at which fighter has a better chance of walking away with the Strikeforce belt around his waist.
Gilbert Melendez has continued to show improvement in his striking with every fight. It was Melendez's stand-up game that allowed him to retain his title in his most recent bout against Jorge Masvidal. "El Nino" will also need to bring his best striking into Saturday night's fight in order to take the edge in his series with Josh Thomson.
In his win over Thomson in December 2009, Melendez out-struck Thomson by a 136-77 margin. At best, Thomson's striking has progressed at an equal rate in comparison with Melendez's, so the Cesar Gracie-trained fighter should still hold an edge on his feet.
Though he's known for having solid wrestling, Melendez was unable to take Thomson to the ground on a total of 11 attempts in their first two meetings. Conversely, Thomson was able to take Melendez down eight times in ten rounds.
If Thomson can force the champion to fight off of his back, the 33-year-old could mount an unlikely upset that would shake up the lightweight division. In fact, a Melendez loss could potentially doom Strikeforce's 155-pound class.
Against Tatsuya Kawajiri, Gilbert Melendez showed off some brutal ground-and-pound by finishing the Japanese fighter with elbows from the top position. Melendez has also finished a number of other opponents with punches on the ground.
Josh Thomson possesses a good ground game of his own, but he threatens opponents more with submissions than with striking. Still, Thompson is comfortable enough fighting off of his back that he should be able to at least survive Melendez's ground-and-pound.
While Thomson deserves a slight edge in the submission department, as he has submitted nine opponents to Melendez's one, there's not much of a chance that this fight will end in a submission.
Thomson has spent 50 minutes inside the cage with Melendez and hasn't been able to lock up a submission. After Saturday night, Thomson will probably have gone 75 minutes without forcing Melendez to tap.
Josh Thomson has competed in two more fights than Gilbert Melendez, but the current champion has competed in championship bouts for his past nine appearances. Needless to say, experience shouldn't play a factor in this matchup between two seasoned veterans.
Thomson and Melendez also have excellent camps behind them in American Kickboxing Academy and Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Both having earned Strikeforce titles, Thomson and Melendez are skilled athletes and are deserving of more recognition from MMA fans.
If Melendez keeps winning, he will eventually get a chance to prove himself in the UFC, whereas Thomson's chance to remind everyone that he is a top lightweight will come against "El Nino" on Saturday night.
Ultimately, the outcome of this fight will depend on Gilbert Melendez's ability to stuff Josh Thomson's takedown attempts and keep the matchup standing. "El Nino" was successful in doing so in his last meeting with Thomson and he should be able to do the same in this rubber match.
If Melendez can score a takedown or two of his own, he may even have a chance at making a big statement by finishing the fight with ground-and-pound. However, Thomson has the ground game to keep Melendez busy defending submissions.
Thus, there is a better chance of Melendez keeping the fight standing and using his speed and technique to out-land Thomson.
Melendez defeats Thomson by unanimous decision.