By Jaime C. Feal
Another huge card with a title fight as the headliner comes to network television once again, as fans are treated to high level MMA on free TV. A stellar night of fights includes the UFC Debuts of Daniel Cormier and Gilbert Melendez, both considered top fighters in their respective weight classes. Cormier will clash with UFC verteran and submission ace Frank Mir, and Gilbert Melendez gets a title shot against Ben Henderson for his first fight in the Octagon. Also on the card is a tremendous matchup that has “Fight of the Night” written all over it, pitting two scrappy, well-rounded fighters against each other in Nate Diaz and Josh Thompson. The action begins on Fox TV tomorrow night, Saturday, April 20th, at 8 PM EST. Fans wishing to catch the prelims can tune into FX at 5 PM EST.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Nate Diaz (16-8, 11-6 UFC) vs. Josh Thomson (19-5, 2-1 UFC)
Nate Diaz may be very well fighting his last fight as a lightweight in the UFC, as he has stated his intentions to move back up to the welterweight division where he has previously fought. Diaz, a training partner and long-time friend of Gilbert Melendez, feels as though Melendez will dethrone Benson Henderson for the title, and therefore Nate Diaz wants to vacate the weight class so as to not compete with his friend and training partner for the belt. Diaz is a favorite in this fight, as he has all the tools to dismantle Josh Thompson.
Diaz has great boxing, and is always moving forward on the feet throwing punches. His highly accurate, volume striking gives opponents fits. When the fight goes to the mat, Diaz utilizes his jiu-jitsu pedigree to submit opponents regularly. A well-rounded, experienced, and dangerous fighter who has always faced elite level competition, Josh Thompson is a step down for Diaz. Thompson performed valiantly against Gilbert Melendez on several occasions, but ultimately came up short. What’s more, Diaz should have great insight as to what it takes to beat Thompson, as Diaz trains with Melendez daily.
Both the lightweights have tremendous cardio, so the fight should be fast paced and exciting. Both fighters fight for the stoppage, but both are also notoriously tough to submit or finish. Thompson has never been submitted in his entire MMA career, whereas Diaz has only been submitted once, way back ins October of 2006, to a Hermes Franca armbar. A finish is therefore highly unlikely in this bout, instead expect to see a back and forth scrap where Diaz comes out on top.
Prediction: Nate Diaz wins by unanimous decision
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Frank Mir (16-6, 14-6 UFC) vs. Daniel Cormier (11-0, 0-0 UFC)
In a theme of the evening, Daniel Cormier fights possibly his last fight in the heavyweight division, as he has announced his intentions to drop to light heavyweight after this bout. Similar to the reasoning behind Nate Diaz letting his teammate Gilbert Melendez fight for the belt, Cormier wants to stay out of the way of long time friend, training partner, and current UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
This fight is a classic wrestler versus jiu-jitsu practitioner matchup. Cormier, a decorated wrestler who has represented the USA in Olympics, has also shown tremendous improvement in his striking as his career has progressed. Cormier showed explosive knockout power when he KOd the enormous Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and to date Cormier hasn’t been defeated in MMA, and hasn’t really even been threatened.
Will that change in this fight, as Cormier takes on former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir? Frank Mir has some of the best jiu-jitsu credentials in all of MMA, a Robert Drysdale blackbelt who submitted Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in vicious fashion: Breaking his arm and forcing Nogueira to tap out, a man previously considered unsubmittable. Mir is extremely, extremely dangerous on the ground, and only needs a small opening to elicit a tap out. Cormier would be wise to keep this fight standing by using his wrestling in reverse. Cormier has more power and better striking than Mir, even at this stage of his career. If Cormier takes Mir down, he must be very methodical and careful in his attack so as to not leave any openings for Mir to attempt submissions. Cormier isn’t very experienced in MMA, but he trains with the best, and has been nothing but cerebral and measured in his approach thus far. Expect more of the same Saturday night, as Daniel Cormier has his official coming out party in the UFC.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier wins by TKO, Round 3
UFC Lightweight Championship (155 lbs.):
Benson “Smooth” Henderson (18-2, 6-0 UFC) vs. Gilbert “El Niño” Melendez (21-2, 0-0 UFC)
Gilbert Melendez, a fighter many pundits have been clamoring about as the true #1 lightweight in the world, will get a chance to prove his supporters’ right in his very first fight in the UFC, as he gets an instant title shot against champ Ben Henderson. Melendez, the former Strikeforce lightweight champion, is a wrestler who uses relentless cardio, ground and pound, and top control to stifle his opponents. Training with the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu camp, which includes the likes of Jake Shields, and the Diaz brothers, has no doubt improved his jiu-jitsu skills as well. Where Melendez is outclassed in this fight is striking.
Ben Henderson comes from a taekwondo background, and has always shown excellent footwork, timing, and movement in the Octagon. He proved this in both his title fights with Frankie Edgar, and in his defense against Nate Diaz. The “Smooth” one is nearly impossible to submit: He has never tapped out despite being extremely deep in choke holds, he always finds a way to escape. Melendez doesn’t have the requisite submission skills to tap out Henderson, so it becomes a battle of who can dictate the terms of the fight. Gilbert Melendez needs to take down Henderson repeatedly, and hold him down, something no one has really been able to do. Henderson, conversely, needs to stop the take down, outstrike Melendez, and maybe mix in some takedowns of his own. Will the hype behind Melendez be justified, or will Henderson prove that the best talent in the world has been and still is in the UFC? Tune in tomorrow night to find out.
Prediction: Benson “Smooth” Henderson wins by unanimous decision.