Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez will finally make his UFC debut on Saturday when he takes on defending UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in UFC on Fox 7's main event.
Melendez is one of the few remaining elite fighters in the world that hasn't made his debut with the world's largest promotion. After spending much of the last six years on the Strikeforce roster, he'll finally have the opportunity to shine in the Octagon.
He couldn't have asked for a better fight to launch his name into the consciousness of the average UFC fan. He has the opportunity to capture a title in his first UFC fight. An opportunity that will undoubtedly become increasingly rare.
Henderson will be looking to establish himself as one of the UFC's dominant champions. With a win over Melendez, he would move past Sean Sherk for the third-longest title reign in the 155-pound division at 420 days.
With two champions set to square off, fans couldn't ask for anything bigger on a card that will be broadcast free of charge on network television. Here are the latest odds and info on this matchup with some quick analysis and a prediction.
TV Info: Main card begins on Fox at 8 p.m. ET
Odds (via Bovada): Henderson -310, Melendez +240
The odds tell the story in this one. This isn't the most lopsided matchup on the card in terms of odds, but Henderson holds the slight advantage in just about every facet.
Melendez has the power in his hands to make things interesting. Henderson doesn't want to get caught up in too many exchanges with the challenger, as 11 of his 21 wins have come by way of knockout.
Even so, Henderson is great at utilizing his powerful kicks to offset his opponents' boxing. He'll make it difficult for Melendez to find the range by peppering in low kicks to set up takedowns and the rest of his striking game.
On the ground, Melendez is a good grappler but Henderson is at least slightly better in every aspect. Henderson has yet to be submitted since his third career fight on the regional circuit in 2007. He's also won eight fights by submission, so he's capable of sinking something in anytime.
The most interesting thing in the matchup should be how Melendez attempts to deal with Henderson's strength. Melendez may have a slight advantage in the speed category, and that could be what makes things intriguing.
Prediction: Henderson by Decision
Henderson by decision is starting to become the new Georges St. Pierre by decision. He's won his last six fights on the scorecards and hasn't pressed for the opportunity to close out the fight.
Melendez is a qualified contender, but you'd like to see how he handles the extra pressure of going to the UFC before endorsing his upset bid. We've seen fighters like Jake Shields and Hector Lombard struggle in their promotional debuts, and Melendez could have the same issue.
Whether or not that turns to be a factor, Henderson is one of the most dominant champions and Melendez may have been better served taking one more fight before challenging for a title.