Before the long-awaited third act of the Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos trilogy plays out, two of the UFC's most grizzled lightweight veterans will look to capture Fight of the Night honors.
As well-oiled and well-conditioned machines, former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez and former top contender Diego Sanchez have all the tools to make their fight a bloody, memorable war of attrition.
For Melendez, a victory over a well-known tough man like "The Dream" could lead to another shot at the lightweight title sometime next year, maybe even in Mexico.
For Sanchez, a former top dog who has struggled to compile only three decision victories since 2009, a victory over one of the best fighters in the promotion could lead to a career resurgence.
Here's how the initial head-to-toe breakdown stacks up entering UFC 166 this Saturday.
Melendez isn't the greatest knockout specialist in the world, but he can throw with the best of them. So even though he hasn't recorded a knockout since 2009, the power is still there.
However, against a fighter like Sanchez who has never been knockout out clean and possesses his own ability to wing sledgehammers, Melendez may find it difficult to utilize his power game.
But if Melendez can get inside and disrupt Sanchez's comfort level, he may have the opportunity to land heavy blows to the body. Outside of that, he's better off picking his shots, calculating damage over time and making Sanchez pay with every mistake.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: MELENDEZ
As one of the more calculated strikers in the lightweight division, the boxing-driven Melendez makes every punch count.
He rarely finds himself throwing punches for the heck of it, which makes him even harder to gas when the going gets tough.
Against a barbaric and aggressive opponent like Sanchez, Melendez is going to have all day to pick his offensive attacks, stay in the pocket or circle out, keep calm, utilize his precision and collect points by the punch.
MAJOR ADVANTAGE: MELENDEZ
Some people find Melendez on the same level as Sanchez when it comes to grappling because he trains alongside the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields, but that doesn't mean he's a bona fide stud.
Sure, he possesses solid skills and great submission defense, but Sanchez's overall track record suggests that he's rightfully the better technical grappler.
With nine submission victories under his belt, as well as never being submitted himself, "The Dream" can be considered a tank on the ground.
He isn't a scintillating dynamo like other UFC black belts, but Sanchez knows how to get it done and makes every transition, even the wild ones, count.
Sanchez is rarely taken down. In fact, he's only been taken down six times since his bout opposite Jon Fitch back in 2007.
That's pretty impressive considering he often rushes opponents and makes every single one of his fights a gritty battle full of surprises.
But as good as Sanchez is at defending the takedown and gaining the upper hand when things go to the ground, Melendez is just as good.
Since his crushing defeat against Josh Thomson back in 2008, Melendez has only been taken down six times as well, including a five-round title fight with Benson Henderson earlier this year.
So even though Sanchez is probably better off his back, it wouldn't surprise anyone if either fighter scored a takedown.
Even though Melendez is the more technically sound and championship ready fighter, Sanchez is on the same playing field when it comes to versatility.
As a fighter who often encompasses aggression and heart more than skill and thought, "The Dream" is one of the most difficult fighters to figure out.
He's practically a nightmare for any fighter unwilling to go to war and put their Octagon soul on the line.
Now while Melendez is an elite gamer in the sport, he might find it difficult to subdue Sanchez's abilities standing up, in the clinch, on the ground, transitioning, pushing off, shooting, securing submissions and battling through adversity.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: SANCHEZ
For as prolific as Melendez has been over the past few years, many people are writing off Sanchez before he even steps inside the cage.
Sure, Melendez has more to lose as far as title hopes are concerned, but that doesn't mean his opponent isn't hungry.
But considering how potent and crisp Melendez is on his feet, as well as his ability to defend the takedown at every turn, it's difficult to visualize Sanchez pulling off the upset.
Obviously he has the tools to catch Melendez snoozing, but that's easier said than done. Look for this fight to go all three rounds with the former Strikeforce king winning each and every one en route to regaining lightweight momentum.
VERDICT: MELENDEZ VIA UNANIMOUS DECISION
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