Gilbert Melendez finally got into the UFC earlier this year. After years of toiling away in the relative obscurity of Strikeforce, he finally, at long last, got his title fight in the UFC against Benson Henderson.
And then he lost.
Looking to cement himself as a top-tier lightweight, he fell into the Diego Sanchez trap, throwing caution to the wind and jumping into a 15-minute war with "The Dream." Although he earned the unanimous-decision win, it wasn't a dominant effort by Melendez, but damn was it exciting.
So what did we learn?
Diego Sanchez Is Still Really Exciting
Diego Sanchez is the lightweight division's gatekeeper-in-chief in the same way Yushin Okami was for the middleweight division. The difference is that Sanchez puts on ridiculous "Just Bleed" fights like this one, while Yushin Okami just kind of won.
Ultimately, though, you can still appreciate what Sanchez does. He is what Dana White claims Nick Diaz to be: the best in MMA at dragging opponents into his kind of fight. He likes to have wild scraps and can get them with an odd level of consistency.
This will almost certainly earn Fight of the Night honors, which will give him his sixth bonus check of that nature since 2009.
Gilbert Melendez Has Very Underrated Boxing
Seriously. Sanchez may not have liked the decision for some reason, but Melendez clearly deserved the decision. This was because the former Strikeforce champion demonstrated an absurd degree of precision in his striking.
While Sanchez threw punches like he was in Dragon Ball Z, Melendez successfully slipped and landed counter hooks from both hands squarely again and again and again.
Credit should be given to Sanchez for his iron chin and resolve, but Melendez was amazing on Saturday. Against anybody else, Melendez would have likely finished the fight with the number of punches he landed.
Gilbert Melendez Is the Legend People Paint Him to Be
For a long time, you couldn't bring up Melendez without an argument breaking out over whether he was one of the greatest lightweights of all time or the most overhyped can opener in the sport.
The fight with Henderson was supposedly the fight that proved him to be the former. I was sold on him before he joined the UFC, but I felt like Henderson beat Melendez handily.
That said, this fight here? This showed the Melendez who had been eluding UFC diehards for years.
He showed off the aforementioned boxing skill, and he has excellent, well-rounded grappling skills honed through a lifetime as a wrestler and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu product out of the Cesar Gracie camp.
We Should Be Concerned About Diego Sanchez's Well-Being
Buzzkill time. Our old friend Trent Reinsmith said it best:
Love Sanchez fights, but I have to say the letters CTE keep popping into my head when he takes that much abuse.— Trent Reinsmith (@TrentReinsmith) October 20, 2013
Some fighters, whom I won't name, have been showing the early signs of this disease. I have never spoken to Sanchez, but how many of these fights can he put on before his brain just permanently dislodges?
He's an exciting fighter and, according to most, a solid human being. That said, it's hard not to be concerned about his well-being.