There's something in the water at lightweight that is making fighters restless. Everyone in the weight class seems to want to fight elsewhere; everyone elsewhere wants to join it.
When Jose Aldo fights Anthony Pettis this August, it will mark the second straight time a featherweight title challenger has been plucked directly from the lightweight division. Interestingly, it is assumed Aldo will one day soon make the jump upward.
Divisional champion Ben Henderson himself recently expressed an interest in moving up to compete against welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre.
Even current 170-pound title contender Nick Diaz has got in on the action, stating his willingness to fight Henderson for his title.
As the divisional lines that separate the UFC's lightweight division from the rest of the classes out there continue to blur more and more, it is enough to put ideas in one's head. Namely, ideas about inter-divisional superfights.
Taking up this theme and running with it, we'll examine an intriguing fantasy-style matchup between Jose Aldo and Gilbert Melendez. We will look at which of the men holds an edge in the striking, wrestling and submission realms of MMA, and determine what outcome the pairing would be likely to produce.
For the sake of detail, we'll assume the bout goes at 155 pounds.
Aldo is one of the best strikers in the sport. Period. He packs a lot of power for a featherweight and would still have more than most of his opponents, including Melendez, if he were to jump up to 155.
In addition to packing a wallop in his punches, Aldo's leg-kicks have become one of the most feared weapons in the UFC.
Melendez is a far better striker now than when he began his rise to prominence, but he's still not that polished. He tends to get sloppy with his hands at times, which leads to him getting hit. And what's more, he expends a lot of energy flailing at nothing but air.
Since 2006, Melendez has connected on just 33 percent of the strikes he's thrown, a woefully low rate (h/t Fight Metric).
This one isn't even close. In fact, Aldo's striking is the single biggest advantage for either fighter in this pairing.
Melendez taking down Josh Thomson
He's known as a striker, but both Aldo's takedown offense and defense are very strong. He's sometimes able to surprise opponents by shooting because, by and large, they don't expect him to do that, and he's able to prevent incoming shots from succeeding, simply because he's capable in that regard.
Aldo has shut down several strong wrestlers in his day, and every time he fights it looks less and less likely that the formula to defeating him lies in powerful takedowns.
First and foremost, Melendez is a wrestler. And a good one at that.
Most of his wins have come via knockout, mainly because he's so easily able to put opponents down and smash them from there. He's also racked up a ton of decision wins, especially lately, a product of his dominant top game.
This advantage is a lot smaller than you might think. Melendez certainly has the better overall wrestling game, but the key matchup is Aldo's defense versus Melendez's offense, and I'm not so sure the latter beats the former more often than not.
I'll still give the nod to the Strikeforce champ, even if the edge he's granted is minimal.
Aldo's ground game doesn't make it onto display very much, but he's certainly looked capable on the mat. He doesn't seek out submissions very forcefully, but he's adept at getting to his feet from the bottom, and can actually do damage from the top.
His submission defense has failed him once before, but that was all the way back in 2005, and it has been stellar since.
Defensively, Melendez's grappling has never really been questioned. He has a strong top game, which he uses to control opponents with ease. He doesn't often see the bottom, but when he does he's capable of getting up pretty quickly.
Offensively, there isn't much there in way of submissions. He rarely looks for them, preferring to maintain position and land whatever strikes he can muster.
I was tempted to go "even" here, giving Melendez the grappling and Aldo the submissions. But realistically, it's unlikely either guy submits the other, so it comes down to control. And control favors Melendez.
Another slight margin of victory for newly arrived Strikeforce import.
For Aldo, Melendez is just another good wrestler. The Brazilian has the blueprint for destroying those, and he'd likely look to exercise his considerable striking talents as much as possible, and use his strong takedown defense to stay upright.
His best chance of ending the fight would be via knockout. If he were able to score one, he'd be the first fighter to finish Melendez.
Aldo's edge in striking is massive, so Melendez would have to get the action to the mat and keep it there. To do that, he'd have to use his superior wrestling and size to wear his opponent out, and either look to impress the judges or do enough damage with ground-and-pound to end it.
Really, what it comes down to for Melendez is: Could he consistently take Aldo down and keep him there?
Projected outcome: Aldo def. Melendez via knockout (Round 2)
I believe Aldo's takedown defense would be strong enough to keep him standing more often than not. And when the action was on the feet, he'd have a field day.
Maybe Melendez gets the takedown a couple times. Maybe he even keeps the fight down for a while when he does get it. But he wouldn't be able to control enough of the fight to avoid being obliterated with Aldo's hands and feet.