MMA Review: #414: UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez

-Alright, so let’s not beat around the bush here – *this* was the show we’d all been waiting for since Zuffa bought out StrikeForce in 2011. I mean sure, we’d had cool cross-over fights prior to this like Overeem/Lesnar, Diaz/GSP, Wandy/Le and so on, but this card was filled with UFC vs. StrikeForce matches – eight of the twelve fights on the card in fact with all four of the main card bouts being what would’ve been inter-promotional dream matches, including a main event featuring the UFC champion vs. the StrikeForce champion . And to add to the whole thing? The show was being held in StrikeForce’s old stomping ground of San Jose! In essence, this was the sort of show *real* MMA fans had been dreaming about for years.

UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez

San Jose, California

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Welterweight Fight: Matt Brown vs Jordan Mein

Originally this would’ve seen Brown against Dan Hardy, but when the Brit’s ‘wolf heart’ issue forced him out, former StrikeForce star Mein – who had CRUSHED Dan Miller in one of the most impressive debuts of 2013 – stepped in to ensure we had four UFC vs. StrikeForce main card bouts. On paper this looked like fireworks purely based on the styles of both men, who fight like rabid animals, but I was leaning towards Mein who for me has a little more skill to go with the sheer aggression.

Round One and both men come out aggressively, with Mein landing a heavy elbow strike early on. Brown really pushes the pace though and lands a solid left hook that hurts Mein and has him on the run. Mein manages to clinch but Brown quickly muscles him off. Brown is literally chasing forward here. Good shot lands for Mein but Brown keeps on coming. Nasty left hook lands for Mein. These guys are fighting with absolute reckless abandon. Brief lull in action allows John McCarthy to stop the fight to replace Mein’s mouthpiece and then they quickly continue with the trade. Left hook lands hard for Brown. Right hand lands too. Brown’s face is all marked up but it doesn’t look like he cares at all. Big exchange sees both men land. Plum clinch from Brown and he lands with some knees. Nice combination from Mein forces Brown on the run and he gets dropped with a left to the body. Mein goes for a front choke and then winds up on top where he lands some elbows and punches to the body. Brown is in big trouble here. BIG SHOTS connect for Mein and he’s looking for the finish. Good job from Brown to tie him up though and suddenly he locks up a triangle choke! Now Mein looks in trouble with a minute to go, but he manages to pop his head free. Holy shit this is a great fight. Mein decides to bring the fight back up with seconds to go and Brown nails him with a big combination that has him badly stunned, ending with a vicious standing elbow. Crowd give the round a monstrous cheer. 10-9 Brown.

Round Two and Brown pushes forward and pops him with a stiff right hand. Brown is beating Mein to the punch. VIOLENT FLURRY from Brown ending with some knees and Mein is busted up badly. Brown uses a choke attempt to force him to the ground where he pounds away and god damn there’s a lot of blood coming from Mein. Brown continues to absolutely PUNISH HIM with shots on the ground and Mein is barely defending. Couple more shots land for Brown and Big John decides he’s seen enough and stops it. Good lord.

Incredible fight and the best performance of Matt Brown’s career by far I’d say. Mein is a very dangerous fighter and yet he was never allowed to settle into his game for a second – despite actually landing heavy blows himself and coming close to a finish in the first – by virtue of Brown’s sheer wild aggression. If this guy doesn’t have like, a job for life with the UFC he absolutely deserves one, because he’s possibly the most exciting fighter they’ve got on the roster right now. Unbelievable opening fight to the televised card.

-We check in with Ronda Rousey to discuss the upcoming season of TUF and at this point they were still expecting her to be coaching against Cat Zingano. Ah, if they only knew!

Lightweight Fight: Josh Thomson vs Nate Diaz

This was one of those fights that I’d never have come up with as a ‘dream match’ when both were in separate promotions but once it was booked it made perfect sense, especially as Thomson had been Melendez’s top foil in StrikeForce while Diaz had been Henderson’s last title challenger. Diaz was coming in as the favourite, probably due to UFC exposure more than anything, but I was actually taking Thomson here – for me he was the better wrestler and striker and I think he’s probably the most underrated 155lber in the world to boot. I was predicting Thomson to pick Diaz apart on the feet to take a decision.

Crowd are insanely pumped for this fight. Both men get a massive babyface reaction as they’re both Cali guys I guess. And referee Mike Beltran has his ZZ Top beard in BRAIDS. What’s not to love, dude?

Round One and Diaz stalks forward and starts taunting right away. Thomson ignores it and lands a couple of leg kicks. Diaz throws some punches out but Thomson’s range is awesome and he’s just out of the way of each combo. Front kick narrowly misses for the Punk. Diaz finally lands a couple of punches and tries to clinch but Thomson pulls away. Big Diaz chant begins. Thomson keeps switching his stance in order to stay out of range. BEAUTIFUL head kick connects for Thomson with phenomenal timing, but Diaz TAKES IT LIKE A MAN. Diaz is really finding it difficult to catch Josh and he tries to draw him out by taunting, but again it doesn’t work. Thomson is a smart guy. Head kick again lands for Thomson but Diaz catches the leg and goes for a takedown. Nice job from Thomson to avoid though and he circles back out. Couple more leg kicks land for Thomson but Diaz finally catches him with a combo. Clinch from Diaz and he forces Josh into the cage. They exchange some short strikes before Thomson muscles Diaz into the cage and then breaks. Right hook misses for Diaz and Thomson ducks under and makes him pay with a trio of hard rights with Nate’s back turned. Nice! Diaz continues to push forward but he walks into a great counter combo from Thomson. Thomson is looking absolutely incredible here. Body kick glances for Diaz. Left to the body connects too but Thomson clocks him with a hard right counter. Clinch from Diaz but Thomson trips him down into guard. Thomson postures up and they exchange from the guard, and Diaz has to roll. As he gets to his feet Thomson meets him with a leg kick. Round ends shortly after and the crowd are DEAFENING. 10-9 Thomson.

Round Two and Diaz comes out swinging, but Thomson quickly clinches. Diaz meets him with a knee to the groin and the ref calls time. Crowd are furious with this and boo loudly. Thomson takes some time to recover and they restart with Thomson circling out and still taking no notice of Diaz’s taunting. Couple of karate style kicks miss for Diaz. He closes in but Thomson clinches him again and forces him into the cage. They muscle for position and Thomson lands a hard knee and a nice right elbow. Elbow breaks for Thomson but Diaz comes back with a combination that Josh answers with one of his own. Clinch from Thomson but Diaz takes him down. Good punches from Diaz and he grabs a guillotine as Thomson scrambles up but Thomson slips his head free. Good elbows break for Thomson. Diaz is busted up badly here. Good jabs from Diaz but Thomson circles out of range again. Looks like it’s Diaz’s right eye that’s cut up. Glancing combos from both men land before Thomson clinches again. Another elbow lands for Josh but Diaz tries to take him down. They exchange knees before Thomson breaks. Right hand from Diaz glances before he avoids a trip takedown. BIG RIGHT HEAD KICK connects for Thomson and DIAZ IS WOBBLED!! Pair of right hands follow and DOWN GOES DIAZ, and Thomson POUNCES ON THE GROUND AND FINISHES HIM OFF!~!

Holy shit; tremendous fight and a tremendous performance from Josh Thomson who becomes the first fighter to finish Nate Diaz in the UFC. That was probably a career-best showing for Thomson in fact as he stuck to a smart gameplan, never allowed himself to get drawn into a brawl with Diaz, and picked him apart using smart range, footwork and intermittent clinching en route to landing a perfect head kick to seal the deal. Diaz never stopped trying but he was outclassed by a better striker here and was never truly allowed to get into the fight. After rewatching this I actually think Thomson might be a good underdog bet for when he fights Anthony Pettis in a few months for the Lightweight Title as his striking looked SO GOOD in this fight.

Heavyweight Fight: Daniel Cormier vs Frank Mir

This fight had been planned for a cancelled StrikeForce show in 2012; a plan which would’ve seen Mir move “on loan” to the promotion after his failed UFC title shot. Thankfully things worked out better with StrikeForce being folded into the UFC and the fight was immediately booked here. One thing you can say about Frank Mir is that the guy does not back down from a fight with anyone, as this on paper sounded like a really tricky fight for him given Cormier’s probably the best wrestler at Heavyweight and Mir’s takedowns aren’t all that. Still, I saw some intrigue because of Mir’s big size advantage and somewhat underrated striking, and hey, Frank Mir is probably a top five HW of all time and isn’t an easy out for anyone.

First round and Mir comes out throwing kicks, surprisingly. He’s in phenomenal shape for the record. Cormier begins to back him up towards the fence, but Mir cracks him with a hard knee to the body. Cormier clinches and forces him into the cage, and from there he opens up with some sweet dirty boxing, landing with a right hand and a hard uppercut. Good knee from Cormier breaks the clinch and he comes back in with a combo. Mir fires right back though with a solid leg kick. Combo from Cormier sets up the clinch again and he follows with a hard knee to the body. Mir is letting Cormier clinch and force him back and historically that hasn’t been a good move for Mir. Cormier lands some heavy shots to the body from the clinch, working him over with knees and punches. Mir doesn’t look badly hurt yet but he’s definitely struggling. He can’t seem to break the clinch at all. Cormier finally decides to break off, and Mir comes forward with a combo, but Cormier counters and grabs another clinch and forces Mir back to the cage. Crowd begin to boo for some reason but it’s not an inactive clinch at all as Cormier’s working hard. They break and Cormier slips on a head kick, and Mir pounces on a guillotine. Cormier quickly pops free though and then drops Mir for a second with a low kick. Mir comes back up and rushes him with a combo and a wheel kick that misses. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Cormier in an impressive round for him.

Second round and Mir opens up with a hard leg kick. Jumping kick (!) misses for Cormier. Couple of combos from Cormier force Mir backwards again and that sets up another clinch. Cormier is consistently controlling the head and left arm of Mir to set up shots to the body from inside the clinch; really good work. He breaks off and backs out, but the speed difference is evident now as Cormier slips a jab from Mir and clocks him with a right en route to the clinch again. Crowd aren’t into this but it’s a masterful showing from Cormier so far in my opinion. More shots from the clinch begin to break Mir down slowly. They break off again with about two minutes remaining and Cormier continues to do a good job of avoiding Mir’s strikes. Another clinch follows and the crowd really boo now. Front headlock from Cormier sets up a nasty uppercut. Cormier’s clinch is really nasty. Big combo lands for him but Mir manages to counter with a right as they separate. Left hand from Mir and he surprisingly tries to clinch, but Cormier shrugs him off and pops him with a right. BRUTAL right hook to the body from Cormier and he follows by clinching. Mir looks busted up. Ref breaks them really quickly with seconds to go but the round peters out. 10-9 Cormier.

Third round and Mir throws some kicks, landing a hard one to the body. Takedown from Cormier but Mir pops right back up and clinches. Cormier easily reverses position though and forces Mir into the fence again where he continues to beat Mir up from the clinch. Big right hook lands for Cormier and they break. Mir lands with a pair of leg kicks and it looks to me like Cormier might be tired. Good kick to the body from Mir and he follows with a knee, but he gets too close to Cormier and it allows him to clinch again. Cormier again works him over in the clinch and when they break he uses his superior speed to connect on a combo. Looks like Mir’s nose might be bleeding. Into the clinch again and the action does slow down now as Cormier lands knees to the body. Herb Dean calls a separation and Mir stalks forward with another body kick, but again he gets too close to Cormier and allows the clinch. Mir just can’t seem to adjust at all here. Good punches to the body from Cormier and he gets a single leg, but allows Mir to get back up. Right hand from Cormier sets up the clinch again. Cormier isn’t doing half the work he did in the clinch previously in this round though. Less than a minute to go and he does land a couple of right hands while muscling Mir into the fence. Mir looks tired. Herb calls another break with seconds to go and Mir pushes forward, but just isn’t quick enough to catch Cormier with anything and the round ends with another clinch. 10-9 Cormier and a clear-cut 30-27 for me.

Judges indeed have it 30-27 all round for Daniel Cormier. Fight wasn’t great from an entertainment standpoint but I actually found it fascinating as Cormier essentially laid down a blueprint on how to beat Frank Mir. He just dictated the range for the majority of the fight (until the third round when I think he got tired) and never allowed Mir to become comfortable, and the speed advantage he enjoyed allowed him to basically clinch at will and work Mir over from there. So not pretty, but for me it was an impressive showing from a relatively inexperienced fighter to be able to totally dominate one of the best Heavyweights of all time. Having said that Mir’s big weakness has always been an inability to adjust midway through a fight and that again came back to haunt him there. Big win for Cormier, regardless.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Benson Henderson vs Gilbert Melendez

Well, after shenanigans ruined the potential UFC title challenges for StrikeForce champs Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson, and Nick Diaz was beaten *before* he actually managed to fight GSP for the UFC belt, this turned out to be the lone ‘unification’ match with the UFC champ vs. the StrikeForce champ. And what a fight it was – both men had looked fantastic in their previous few fights, even if they’d managed to cling onto their titles by the skin of their teeth in tough outs against great opponents (Melendez against Josh Thomson; Henderson against Frankie Edgar), and it was fair to say that they were two of the top three 155lbers in the world. Really, really tough fight to call, too, given how well-rounded both men are. I was leaning towards Henderson based on his size advantage and what I thought would be a slight advantage in wrestling, but it was pretty much a coin flip match for me.

SERIOUS staredown pre-fight. No real rivalry between these two but they’re just FUCKING INTENSE AS HELL. Which is awesome, of course!

Round One and they come out quite tentatively, exchanging some feeler strikes from distance. Low kick from Bendo but Melendez clearly has it scouted and counters with an overhand right. Low kick lands for Gilbert. Nice straight left from Henderson. Kick from Bendo is caught and Melendez lands a right and throws him to the ground. He watches out for an upkick by dropping a hand, and then goes down into the guard where he immediately looks to pass. Henderson quickly scoots back towards the fence but Melendez holds onto his ankle before landing a knee as the champ escapes to his feet. Fans are totally behind Melendez here. Good leg kick from Henderson but Gil again catches it and follows in with a glancing flying knee. Henderson clinches and forces him into the fence, and they muscle for position with neither man gaining a real advantage. Melendez breaks with a left hook. Two high kicks miss for Bendo but a low kick connects. Gilbert answers with one of his own. Nice combination from Gil. Henderson rushes him with a body kick, but Gilbert catches the leg and makes him pay with a knee to the body. Seconds to go and Henderson lands a really hard inside leg kick. Good combo from Melendez before he catches a kick and counters with another right on the buzzer. Close round but I’d go 10-9 Melendez.

Round Two and again Melendez lands the most effective combo, ending with a sharp right hook. Henderson seems to be having issues closing the distance and when he’s trying to throw kicks Gilbert is catching them. Good body shot from Melendez and he lands a leg kick too. Good knee to the body from Henderson and he shrugs off a takedown attempt. Melendez still seems slightly sharper though. Left hand connects for Bendo and backs Gil up slightly. He catches another kick, but this time eats a left hand. Melendez comes right back though with a combo that has Bendo on the retreat. Takedown attempt from Henderson is shrugged off. Brief exchange sees both men land. Melendez is still the aggressor though for the most part. Quick trade in the center of the cage pops the crowd. Good elbow lands for Bendo and he lands a kick to the body too before pulling free when Gil tries to grab him. Left hand from Bendo. Right from Melendez answers and that’s the round. That round was almost impossible to score. It was all Gilbert early on but Henderson really came back late on and I think he stole it. 10-9 Henderson.

Round Three and Henderson rushes the challenger but eats a combination. Good low kick from the champ. Melendez backs Henderson up a bit with the inside leg kick/right hand to the body combination. HEAVY low kick from Henderson outright drops Melendez for a second but he pops back up. Henderson follows with a sharp combo ending in an uppercut. Big right hand connects for Melendez on the counter. Another one follows as he catches Henderson with his back to the cage. This is a great fight. Takedown attempt from Henderson but Melendez gets his back to the fence to defend. Bendo gets him off his feet for a second but Melendez immediately begins to work back up and does so. Henderson stays on him with a hard knee to the body, and then they exchange punches to the body from the clinch before breaking. Two minutes to go and this is another close round. Front kick glances for the champion. Good left hand from Henderson but Melendez fires right back. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Melendez. Body kick from Henderson connects. Big left misses for Bendo and Gil lands with a right hand. Takedown attempt from Henderson and they muscle along the fence and brawl at the same time before breaking and both throw kicks. Less than a minute to go now and Melendez lands to the body. Leg kick from Gil but Henderson counters with a left hand. Low kick from Bendo drops BOTH MEN, but the champ ends the round on top with punches. Awesome stuff. 10-9 Henderson and I have it 29-28 leading into the championship rounds.

Round Four and they trade early on with both men landing. Looked like there might’ve been a clash of heads there too. Body kick from Henderson. Good leg kick follows and he shrugs off a clinch attempt from Melendez. Melendez really begins to push forward but Henderson switches it up with a takedown attempt. Gil shrugs it off and they remain standing. Body kick from Henderson is caught but Melendez can’t get him down. A knee to the midsection sees the same result. HARD low kick from Henderson and he goes for the takedown. Melendez defends it though and lands a knee to the body for good measure. Henderson’s hair keeps getting in his eyes. Good step-in left elbow from Bendo. He’s feinting the leg kick now too to set up his punches. Combo connects for El Nino. Both men throw leg kicks but in the scramble Melendez goes down and Henderson takes his back. Gilbert immediately scrambles free though and they come back to their feet. Combo from Henderson. Neither man looks at all tired. Melendez begins to really pressure him with a pair of hooks to the body and a hard right hand that set up a clinch. Round ends with a few heel kicks from Henderson before they break to end. 10-9 Henderson and I’ve got it 39-37.

Round Five and despite my scoring this could still go either way as the second round was SO CLOSE. Round opens with a nice leg kick from Henderson. Jumping switch kick glances for the champ too as Gil stalks forward throwing out jabs. Beautiful low kick from Bendo almost takes Gil off his feet. Hard right to the body from Melendez and he really begins to push the pace. These guys have incredible cardio as neither looks even slightly gassed. Good inside leg kick from Henderson and he glances with the step-in left elbow again. Left hand from Melendez but he can’t seem to close Henderson down. Clinch is shrugged off by Bendo. Leg kick and elbow again from Henderson but Gilbert counters with an uppercut. Crowd are red-hot with two minutes to go. Kick is caught by Melendez and he counters with a right hand. Knee to the body from Melendez. This might be the closest round yet! Combination connects for Melendez. Right hand follows and Gil is beginning to take over the round. Left hand counter from El Nino. Good body shot follows. They trade in the center but neither man lands cleanly. Left from Melendez. Crowd are deafening and they think Melendez has got it. Fight ends there. Round goes to Melendez in my book but that makes it 48-47 Henderson. Could go either way though based on incredibly close rounds two and five.

Judges have it a split decision; 48-47 Melendez, 48-47 Henderson and 48-47 for Benson Henderson to retain the title. Crowd are FURIOUS with that one and absolutely boo Bendo out of the building. Well, that’s harsh – it was a super-close fight and I mean, while you could argue the case for Melendez it wasn’t like either man really showed they were totally better than the other. Post-fight the crowd come off REALLY badly as they boo Bendo as he PROPOSES TO HIS GIRLFRIEND. Come the fuck on, how can you boo a guy doing that?

Fight was awesome, at any rate. Full of action even if the lack of near finishes keeps it from being a proper FOTYC or anything like that. Was very reminiscent in fact of Henderson’s previous fights with Frankie Edgar, rather than Melendez’s crazy wars with Josh Thomson. Rounds Two and Five were too close to call and could’ve gone either way really, and if Melendez had won I don’t think Henderson would’ve had too many complaints, but them’s the breaks I guess. I was surprised that they didn’t go for an instant rematch given about 50% of the fanbase thought Gil won, but I guess the fanbase are also sick of rematches at 155lbs after Frankie Edgar’s reign and so they’ve gone in a different direction. To see them rematch for the title at some point in the future wouldn’t surprise me at all, however, even if Henderson’ since been dethroned. A fine main event to cap off the night.

-We head to Curt Menefee, Chael Sonnen and Brian Stann to wrap up the night’s action, and in a hilarious moment Sonnen goes right from being this professional, well-spoken analyst who says he thinks Melendez did enough to win but it was close, into TOTAL PRO-WRESTLING MODE as he cuts a ludicrous promo to build the fight with Jon Jones. Gotta love Chael. Show ends there.

Final Thoughts….

Outside of the Evans/Davis card UFC can’t seem to put a bad show on Fox and this was certainly no exception. The majority of the prelims (although I haven’t looked at them here…) were great and then the main card just picked up where they left off, as Brown/Mein and Thomson/Diaz were both fantastic fights, the main event delivered exactly as was advertised and while Cormier/Mir was a little slower, I still found it a fascinating fight to watch and it certainly wasn’t horrible. Easy thumbs up for one of the very best shows of 2013.

Best Fight: Brown vs. Mein
Worst Fight: Cormier vs. Mir

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: