Gilbert Melendez vs. Benson Henderson: Key Questions in Lightweight Title Fight

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2013

Dec 8, 2012, Seattle, WA, USA; Ben Henderson fights Nate Diaz (not pictured) during the fifth round of their championship lightweight bout at MMA on FOX 5 at Key Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Fight fans looking ahead to UFC 159's colossal title fight between Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are making a mistake—UFC on Fox 7's lightweight title tilt between Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez provides plenty of intrigue this Saturday.

Henderson (18-2) will look to make his third title defense since taking the title from Frankie Edgar in Feb. of 2012. After defeating Edgar in a rematch and defending his title against Nate Diaz to close out 2012, Henderson can make a big statement in the pound-for-pound ranking with a win over another quality challenger.

Melendez (21-2) will be making his UFC debut. While he may not have the name recognition of a lot of UFC stars, he hasn't lost since 2008 and has been the reigning lightweight champion in Strikeforce since 2009. He's more than qualified to challenge Henderson for his title.

With both fighters owning near-perfect records and championship credentials, this isn't a matchup to be taken lightly. Here are the top questions we have that will define Saturday's headlining fight.


Is Gilbert Melendez for real?

The UFC isn't the be-all end-all for MMA. There are talented fighters who exist on other organization's rosters. However, we've seen champions from other organizations fail on the grand stage before.

Former Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard drew plenty of buzz when he made the transition to the UFC. After watching Lombard run through lower-level competition, it was easy to crown him as an automatic contender for Anderson Silva's crown.

That talk turned out to be a little premature when Lombard lost to Tim Boetsch and has now lost two of his last three bouts.

That's not to say that Melendez will suffer the same fate. There have been other fighters, say former WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who have turned out to be pretty good UFC fighters.

Melendez is getting a huge opportunity with a title shot in his first UFC fight. Time will tell if he can live up to the hype.


Will a long layoff affect Melendez?

In addition to a huge step up in competition, Melendez must also face the task of a nearly year-long layoff. Melendez will return to action for the first time since a Strikeforce title defense against Josh Thomson on May 19, 2012.

Anytime there's a long layoff involved, it's difficult to tell how a fighter will react. Sometimes it's not an issue, and fighters can pick up right where they left off. Other times, we see fighters struggle with cardio or getting into a rhythm.

Melendez has gone five rounds six times in his career. He's 5-1 in those fights. Cardio shouldn't be an issue for him, but if he can't get into a rhythm early, that could spell trouble for him.


Can Henderson get the fight to the ground?

Ben Henderson's striking game seems to improve every time he steps into the Octagon, but on paper, it would seem he wants this fight to take place on the ground.

Henderson is incredibly strong for a lightweight and also has elite wrestling skills. Melendez is one of the more powerful stand-up opponents that he's faced. Anything could happen on the feet, but the ground is Henderson's world.

According to FightMetric, Henderson only lands 51% of his takedown attempts, but he's persistent. He still lands 3.2 per 15 minutes, or one per round.

If Henderson can get Melendez to the ground, he could win this one easily. If he elects to stand and exchange with Melendez, things should get interesting. How Melendez handles Henderson's wrestling will be a major aspect of the fight to keep an eye on.