Sanchez, currently unranked, is coming off a contentious decision victory over Takanori Gomi in March. He also came in to the bout overweight. It was his return to the 155-pound division.
Melendez, ranked No. 1, dropped his UFC debut to Benson Henderson by a contentious decision in April. The narrow defeat did not see him drop in the rankings, but it also did not earn him an immediate rematch.
The bout between Melendez and Sanchez looks to be exciting. On paper, it is one of the best upcoming lightweight bouts.
Let's take a look at this bout, and break it down from head to toe.
This fight will most likely take place exclusively on the feet.
Both men love to stand and exchange strikes, and both keep up an intense pace.
Sanchez comes forward and blitzes his opposition. His striking is diverse. Sanchez utilizes his punching more than his kicks, but that can lull his opponents to sleep a bit. That will not happen against Melendez.
Melendez has faced better strikers and been involved in fast-paced firefights before. Sanchez is just another roadblock for Melendez. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion is better technically. That will be the difference in this stand-up affair.
Sanchez needs to mix it up to defeat Melendez.
You could make a case for either fighter having the advantage in this category, or even call it a push.
In recent fights, Melendez has been the better grappler. Both offensively and defensively. However, much of that is predicated on his all-around game.
When singling out the grappling alone, I have to lean towards Sanchez.
Sanchez has the credentials and the success inside the Octagon to back it up. He has simply chosen not to utilize it in his recent bouts.
Make no mistake, it will be difficult to find success against Melendez. When isolating grappling there is a slight lean to Sanchez. But overall success in the bout will largely depend on who sets up their attempts better.
It will be interesting to see what game plan each man brings in to the Octagon when they meet.
Once again, both fighters are competent in this area. It's not a runaway for the one who holds the individual edge.
The last time Melendez submitted an opponent it was 2006, and it was 2008 for Sanchez (by strikes). Part of the reason it has been so long for each man is their love for finishing with strikes, and the other portion is that both men have been fighting quality competition that was hard to submit.
Sanchez has simply shown more in the submission department.
Even if Melendez is in a better position to submit Sanchez, he is not likely to finish. Sanchez's defense is top notch, and he is a threat from bottom. Sanchez's submission game is just a little bit better and more diverse than Melendez's.
Melendez's X-Factor: Pace
One of Sanchez's best attributes as a fighter is his cardio. He pressures his opponents and eventually tries to overwhelm them. That is not likely to happen against Melendez, but the former Strikeforce champion needs to set a pace he is comfortable with.
With better striking and good takedown defense, Melendez can establish distance well. He can keep Sanchez on the outside and prevent him from continually coming forward.
Melendez is no stranger to a fast-paced fight, and that may be what he wants. But he needs to establish the pace of the fight.
Sanchez's X-Factor: Being More Diverse
Sanchez has gotten a bit too predictable in his attacks. His striking, while solid, is not on Melendez's level.
Sanchez must attempt takedowns and make Melendez think. He cannot just come forward throwing lefts and rights. He will get beat up like that. The former title challenger has to throw kicks, clinch and attempt takedowns.
In the previous slides, I gave Sanchez the edge in two categories, but I don't see that manifesting itself in the fight.
Melendez is more athletic and has less wear and tear on his body. The wars are beginning to catch up to Sanchez. Not only that, but Sanchez will not be able to mix it up well enough to catch Melendez off-guard.
Melendez is simply the better fighter at this time.
The former Strikeforce champion will take each and every round of this fight. He will prevent Sanchez from finding much success, dictate the pace and fight at a pace that suits him better. I don't think he will stop Sanchez, but that outcome would not surprise me either.
Melendez will keep his ranking and make a case for another title fight.
Prediction: Melendez defeats Sanchez by unanimous decision.