Two electrifying lightweights will fight for bragging rights on the UFC 166: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos III main card before the heavyweights go to war at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, when Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez and Diego “Dream” Sanchez face off this Saturday (Oct. 19, 2013) on Pay-Per-View.
Melendez was a dominant champion in Strikeforce aside from his few fights with Josh Thomson, who will face Anthony Pettis for the lightweight title in Sacramento at UFC on FOX 9. El Nino went undefeated for three years prior to his Octagon debut, which saw him losing to Benson Henderson by decision after an outstanding effort in challenging for the championship.
Sanchez recorded a close win over Takanori Gomi in March at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. The Dream seems to have lost his way since a vicious five-round beating coming at the hands of BJ Penn in late 2009, and he has yet to establish an imposing run in the Octagon after jumping up to welterweight and back down to lightweight.
In order for Sanchez to pull off the win this Saturday, he has to bring this fight to the ground and keep it there. That will be no easy task when going against El Nino, who’s shown tremendous takedown defense throughout his career and prefers to keep the fight standing. A fighter who won’t shy away from slugging it out with his opponent if he can’t get them to play his game, Sanchez will trade punches and kicks with just about anyone. But if he plans on exiting the Octagon doors without any cuts or bruises, he will have to take a page out of Georges St. Pierre’s playbook and transition from punches to takedowns to win some rounds in the fight with Melendez.
The striking of Melendez is unforgiving once he finds a home for his big right hand. As soon as Sanchez unloads with flurries, Melendez will calculate his knockout power into the equation, which is something Sanchez hasn’t shown since a surprising KO of Joe Riggs way back in 2006.
Not that Sanchez can’t take a punch as well as anyone else at 155, it’s just not his best bet to go punch-for-punch with a better stand up fighter like Melendez. As a close training partner of both Nick and Nate Diaz, El Nino can get the same look in training that Sanchez will bring if he decides to stand with Melendez. The Diaz brothers have longer reach and better striking offense and defense than Sanchez, so I’m assuming if Melendez has been getting rounds in with those guys, finding a target for his punches this weekend won’t be an issue.
I can’t imagine the stubborn Sanchez ever getting knocked out in a fight, however, if he allows himself to get hit over and over as he’s prone to doing in the past, then don’t be surprised to see the cageside physician checking up on him in between rounds. One thing everybody forgets is how good a ground fighter Sanchez can be. It’s the noticeable deficiency in his takedown ability that brings doubt in my mind.
Prediction: Melendez via Unanimous Decision