MMA Review: #386: Melendez vs. Masvidal

Strike Force: Melendez vs. Masvidal

San Diego, California

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo, Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich. This will sound crazy now….but while I checked the results the day after, I’ve never actually seen this show properly outside of sort of skimming over the fights at the time! The main discussion is of course the main event of Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal, although they give a bit of time to Cris Cyborg too who’s defending here against unknown (to me at least) Japanese fighter Hiroko Yamanaka.

Lightweight Fight: KJ Noons vs Billy Evangelista

Well, you’ll have to excuse any bias here because as anyone who reads my stuff knows, I can’t stand KJ Noons for some reason. I can’t even explain it myself! I was expecting him to win comfortably here though as Evangelista had looked thoroughly outclassed by Jorge Masvidal when they fought, and while Noons isn’t as good as Masvidal he isn’t far off.

Round One and Noons opens with a pair of inside leg kicks before dodging a huge overhand right. Takedown from Noons but Evangelista quickly pops back up and they muscle for position inside the clinch. Knee breaks for Evangelista and they circle out where KJ lands another low kick. Evangelista clinches and forces Noons into the fence, and they exchange some knees. Slam from Evangelista puts Noons down, and he lands a solid knee to the body and then locks up a guillotine as KJ stands. Noons easily escapes that though and circles back out. Evangelista clinches again and lands another knee, then connects with another and a left hook on the way out. Takedown attempt from Evangelista but Noons blocks it nicely. Crowd sounds TINY by the way, like a prelim on one of the really early UFN cards at the Hard Rock. Couple more leg kicks from Noons and he’s using the jab to keep distance. Evangelista walks through a hard knee to the body to get the clinch, where he lands a pair of uppercuts. They separate and a left hook connects for Evangelista that forces Noons to back up. Good combo from Evangelista to close distance but Noons breaks and pops him with a jab. Good leg kick from Noons and then he lands a nice uppercut and a right hook. Evangelista closes the distance again and drops for the takedown with seconds remaining, and he lands some sharp knees and a right elbow to finish the round. Close round but I’d give it to Billy Evangelista, 10-9.

Round Two begins with Noons landing a couple of leg kicks and avoiding a half-hearted takedown attempt. Evangelista lands a leg kick of his own. More low kicks from Noons and then he tags him with a right hand and a spinning back kick into a spinning backfist! Neither land cleanly but an uppercut into a left hook does connect. Body punch from Noons but Evangelista counters with a left hand. Noons has a bloody nose. Good low kick from Noons and he snaps Evangelista’s head back with a jab. They go into a trade and Noons gets the better of it easily. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Evangelista though and they trade into the clinch before breaking. Good uppercut from Noons. Combo from Noons but Evangelista connects on a powerful right hook counter. Takedown attempt again from Noons but Evangelista stuffs it and lands a pair of knees to the head. Noons returns the favour by stuffing a takedown from Evangelista and they circle out. Good leg kick from Evangelista. Right uppercut into a left hook from Noons. Evangelista lands a pair of jabs to back him up, but walks into a hard knee to the body. Noons blocks a takedown but eats a left hand. Into the clinch but they break off quickly. Good right hand from Noons and a stiff jab snaps Evangelista’s head back. Wild right hook glances for Evangelista and sets up the clinch, but Noons breaks with an uppercut. Seconds to go and Noons looks for the takedown, but can’t get it before the buzzer. Another close one; 10-9 Noons this time to even things up.

Round Three and Noons stays on his bike early, before landing a nice counter combo that ends in a heavy uppercut. Evangelista fires right back and both men get hit pretty hard, but neither one seems stunned. Good left hook lands for Noons in another exchange. BIG head kick lands for Noons flush in Evangelista’s face but somehow he’s still standing. Takedown attempt from Evangelista follows but Noons avoids it. Good leg kick and an uppercut from Noons. He’s clearly getting the better of this now. Stiff jab lands for Noons. Evangelista looks to clinch but Noons gets out and avoids some wild swings too. Evangelista manages to get hold of him for a second, but Noons wriggles free. Front facelock from Evangelista and he backs Noons into the fence, but KJ escapes and then goes for his own takedown. Evangelista blocks and looks for a guillotine, then switches to a standing D’Arce and drags him down. Noons escapes though and pops back to his feet. Both men look GASSED now and start exchanging, and Noons gets the better of it with the cleaner punches. They clinch before breaking with a minute to go, and holy fuck are these guys tired. They wing some punches at one another before Noons clocks him with a right hook. Good left uppercut from Noons too. Evangelista clinches and forces him back, but they break again and Noons walks him down with a combo to end the fight. 10-9 Noons for a 29-28 victory in my eyes.

Judges call it 29-28 all round for KJ Noons. Not the greatest fight ever as both men looked completely out of gas by the end of it, but hey, it was a perfectly acceptable opener and a solid win for Noons as he had to dig quite deep to get it.

-Heidi Androl interviews Cris Cyborg via translator; not much to hear to be quite frank. Still not a fan!

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Gegard Mousasi vs Ovince St-Preux

This was an interesting fight at the time as OSP had been on quite the run in StrikeForce, reeling off four straight wins and looking pretty impressive each time. Mousasi was a massive step up to say the least, though, even if his last appearance had been a controversial draw with Keith Jardine. Big question was whether OSP could take Mousasi down and manage to outwrestle him to a decision, as anything else favoured the Armenian really.

First round and OSP circles before landing a solid body kick. Mousasi stalks forward and lands a good leg kick, then blocks a big head kick attempt. Big body kick into a one-two from Mousasi. Another powerful OSP kick is blocked. Mousasi is really walking him down here. Right hand lands for the former DREAM champion. Leg kick follows. Good combo backs OSP up and OSP is looking a bit out of his depth thus far. Body kick lands for OSP but Mousasi catches the leg and gets a takedown into half-guard. OSP gets back to guard but takes some heavy shots from Mousasi as he postures up over him. Mousasi passes into side mount and from there he rains down with some heavy elbow shots. OSP tries to reverse using sheer strength, but Mousasi defends that and gets him back down to drop some more nasty, nasty elbows. Mousasi looks for a far-side kimura, but OSP slips out and manages to take top position in half-guard. SICK reversal from Mousasi puts him back on top, and he ends the round with some really effective ground-and-pound from side mount, almost getting the finish from the mounted crucifix before the buzzer goes. 10-9 Mousasi.

Second round and OSP opens with a body kick. Takedown attempt from OSP but Mousasi defends it nicely and gets a trip of his own down into OSP’s guard. Mousasi postures up to deliver some strikes from the top, and passes into half-guard in the process. Nice elbows connect for Mousasi and OSP looks pretty lost from his back, offering no offense and very little defense either. Mousasi continues to work with solid ground-and-pound but confusingly referee Steve Davis calls a stand-up. Good leg kick from Mousasi. Knee attempt from OSP but Mousasi catches the leg and drives him back into the fence. OSP looks for a switch and he manages to get Mousasi on his back in guard with about ninety seconds remaining. Mousasi tries to go for a submission but winds up underneath side mount, and OSP grinds away with some elbows as Mousasi looks to get to his feet. He does manage to escape with seconds left on the clock, and then he sprawls to avoid an OSP takedown and lands some punches to the head to end the round. 10-9 Mousasi.

Third round and Mousasi opens with a vicious leg kick. OSP closes the distance, but Mousasi forces him back into the cage in the clinch. Knee from OSP but Mousasi hits a single leg and almost takes the back, getting one hook in as OSP stands. OSP manages to turn into him and goes for a takedown of his own, and he manages to pull the legs from under the Armenian, taking side mount. Full mount now for OSP but Mousasi goes out the back door. OSP manages to get back to full mount though and lands some punches before Mousasi scrambles free and works to his feet, looking for a takedown of his own. He drives OSP across the cage and then gets him down, taking the back and landing some punches with one hook in. OSP kneels up and then manages to stand, and Mousasi botches a takedown and lands on the bottom. Quick scramble puts him back on top though in half-guard. Good punches from Mousasi and he looks to take the back for a second before settling down into half-guard. One minute to go now and he lands some shots to the body, then takes the back, but OSP slides out the back door and then drops a left hand with Mousasi lying on his back now. OSP stands over him but he takes a glancing upkick. He drops down and almost takes the back before going into the half-guard with some punches. Mousasi tries to scramble, but OSP goes for a D’Arce choke and almost has it locked up as the buzzer goes. 10-10 round so I’ve got it 30-28 for Gegard Mousasi.

Official scorecards read 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28 for Gegard Mousasi. This was a pretty entertaining fight for the most part with some really nice grappling sequences. Mousasi was the clear winner and it looked to me like he’d really been working on his wrestling, but OSP wasn’t really outclassed by him either which was impressive for him. Mousasi admits himself though that he was in a bit of a funk at this point in his career and he’s taking things much more seriously these days, which bodes well for his upcoming UFC career, as if he was able to get this far practically on talent alone, who knows how good he could be with more dedication?

-Gilbert Melendez talks with Heidi Androl about Jorge Masvidal and he mentions how glad he is to have the lanky Diaz brothers to train with in order to get used to Masvidal’s longer reach. He’s a confident guy.

-We then catch up with Josh Barnett in the crowd, and he discusses Daniel Cormier, saying his Olympic background sort-of makes up for his lack of MMA experience, but damnit, he’ll definitely be taking Cormier down.

Strike Force Women’s Featherweight Title: Cyborg Santos vs Hiroko Yamanaka

Yamanaka was bringing in a great record here – 12-1 with no losses since 2008, but just looking at her here makes it pretty obvious that she was another squash victim for Cyborg. I mean seriously, they look at least one weight class apart and probably two weight classes apart in terms of sheer muscle mass.

Fight begins and Yamanaka comes forward, but a quick flurry puts her down right away. Cyborg looks to pound away on the ground but Yamanaka gets back to her feet. Another flurry drops her hard though and the ref steps in there.

Well, at least it was quick. Total squash as expected. Of course, this was the infamous fight that saw Cyborg test positive for steroids post-fight and she’s been on suspension since. For me it was a blessing in disguise as it took the focus of Women’s MMA away from the 145lbs division with Cyborg and her horrible squash matches to the 135lbs division and the likes of Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, who are much easier to watch. I mean, I’m not big on Women’s MMA anyway, but it’s one thing to see fairly-matched girls like Tate, Rousey, and Kaufman fighting one another – it’s a totally different ball game to see a blatantly roided-up Cyborg crushing much smaller opposition with the POWER OF TESTOSTERONE. Now that StrikeForce has been folded into UFC there’s a lot of talk of Cyborg coming back as a 135lber to fight Rousey, but I mean, if I were Zuffa I wouldn’t touch her as she just looks bad for the sport, far worse – and I realize this is a double standard, but fuck it – far worse than a male fighter like Stephan Bonnar who gets popped for roid abuse.

Strike Force Lightweight Title: Gilbert Melendez vs Jorge Masvidal

Interesting stuff to set this one up. The rumor initially was that Melendez would be pulled out of this fight and moved over to the UFC, but then Zuffa ended up signing an extension to their contract with Showtime which left Gil stuck in StrikeForce for a little longer. Masvidal had earned a title shot I guess – beating Billy Evangelista and KJ Noons – but most fans really wanted Melendez in the UFC and it was understandable as Masvidal wasn’t really ranked in the top ten by most sources. Clear favourite here was Melendez and I figured he’d get a finish if he came in with the sheer ferocity he’d brought into the Kawajiri fight earlier in the year.

Round One begins and it’s a tentative beginning for both men, as they bounce around and throw out some jabs to test the distance, neither man really landing. About a minute in and Melendez begins to tag him with punches, landing a hard jab and then a one-two that snaps Masvidal’s head back. Jabs from Melendez back Masvidal up and then he CRACKS him with a big right hand and follows with a one-two. Masvidal evidently has a great chin. Leg kick follows for Melendez. Beautiful three-punch combo lands for Melendez. Masvidal comes back with an uppercut to the body and follows with a jumping knee that Melendez blocks. Combo misses for Gil and Masvidal catches him with a leg kick that drops him for a split second, but he pops back up and doesn’t seem hurt really. Couple of jabs land for Masvidal but Melendez pushes in and lands the right hand again. Kick from Masvidal is caught and Melendez throws him down and then grabs a guillotine, but he can’t quite lock it up and he goes to a regular front facelock and lands a couple of knees. They break off and Melendez lands a right hand. Good leg kick from Masvidal but Melendez lands the right again. Round ends on the feet. Really good round for Gilbert Melendez although Masvidal was hanging tough. 10-9 Melendez.

Round Two and both men again throw out some jabs before Melendez glances with a big right hand. Nice combo to the body and head from the champion. His stand-up is looking great here. More jabs from Melendez and he counters a low kick with a sharp right hand. Left hook connects for Melendez and backs Masvidal up. Melendez continues to back him up and lands a pair of one-two combinations that have Masvidal hurt momentarily. He recovers quickly though and gets off the fence, circling out. Straight left lands for Masvidal but Melendez continues to have the range down and he lands a right hand, a leg kick and a body kick. Straight left again from Masvidal but Melendez hits two jabs and a right hand. Big knee misses for Masvidal and he slips to the ground before popping up. Uppercut glances for Gil. Counter left hook glances for Melendez in an exchange. More jabs set up a big right hand but it doesn’t seem to land cleanly and Masvidal seems okay. Jab again lands for Melendez. Nice counter right hand connects for the champion too. Round ends with more jabs from Melendez. 10-9 Melendez and Masvidal needs to change something up quickly if he wants to win here.

Round Three and Melendez continues to work his hands, firing jabs and combos that back the challenger up. Masvidal is bobbing and weaving and dropping his hands to try to avoid, but he’s still being landed on. Takedown attempt by Melendez is stuffed, but Masvidal doesn’t capitalise and Melendez lands with another few combos that really back the challenger up. Jumping knee glances for Masvidal but it doesn’t seem to have any effect on Melendez who pushes forward and lands a combo. Counter right knocks Gil’s mouthpiece out but he picks it right up and sticks it straight back in. Ewww. Another solid right counter lands for Masvidal but he’s taking bigger shots from Melendez every time they exchange. Gilbert’s really backing the challenger up here. Good body punch from Masvidal and he follows with a stiff double jab. Overhand right connects for Melendez. Another combo lands for Gil but then he takes a body kick from Masvidal. Melendez closes him down again and lands another combination while doing a nice job of avoiding the shots that Masvidal throws back at him. Spinning back kick glances for Masvidal and that’s the round. 10-9 Melendez again and this is looking like a shutout.

Round Four and more jabs from Melendez back Masvidal up. Right hand counter lands for Masvidal but Melendez continues to come forward and land jabs. Uppercut glances for the champion. Double jab into a right hook from Melendez. Hard one-two from Melendez counters a low kick and he follows with another quick combo. Right hook counter lands for Melendez as Masvidal throws a jab. One-two lands for Melendez. Masvidal starts to come forward a little more and lands a left, but he’s having trouble with the range as he’s eating shots consistently. Nice left lands for Masvidal but Melendez walks him down with a combination. Two minutes to go in the round and they clinch briefly before breaking off. Good leg kick from Masvidal. Right hook connects for Melendez. Masvidal connects with the left hand again but more jabs from Melendez force him to retreat. Good combinations from Melendez. Seconds to go and it’s more of the same as Melendez continues to pepper the challenger. Knee connects for Masvidal and they exchange on the buzzer. 10-9 Melendez again and Masvidal quite clearly needs a finish.

Round Five and Melendez comes out firing again, but this time his punches largely miss as Masvidal stays out of range. Brief exchange sees both men land. Jumping knee misses for Masvidal and Melendez lands with one of his own and a left hand. One-two follows for the champion. Good leg kick from Masvidal. Nice combination answers for Melendez, landing four shots cleanly. Counter right lands for Gil as Masvidal steps in, but the challenger comes back with a left hook. Good combo from Melendez before Masvidal lands with a jab. Beautiful combo from Melendez as he lands three clean shots. Heavy left hook lands to the body for Melendez. Two minutes to go and there’s no sign of either man looking for a takedown. Couple more left hands land for Melendez. Couple of jabs connect for Masvidal but he isn’t fighting like he needs a finish, which he quite blatantly does. Nice combination again from Melendez. Masvidal fires right back, but a Melendez right hand snaps the challenger’s head back. They trade blows in the closing seconds with both men landing some decent shots, and then Masvidal attempts a single leg and takes Gil’s back in the scramble, but the champ quickly escapes that and the fight ends in the clinch. I’ve got this an easy 50-45 for Gilbert Melendez. Totally dominant performance.

Official scorecards read 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 for Gilbert Melendez. Well, that was a pretty obvious one to score in the end. Wasn’t the most entertaining fight ever although it certainly wasn’t bad, and in a lot of ways in my mind anyway, this was more impressive than Melendez’s last couple of fights. I mean sure, Gil didn’t show as much ferocity as he did when he destroyed Kawajiri, but he picked apart an excellent striker for five full rounds using a patient stand-up attack he hadn’t really shown before, and for a guy who’s more well known for his wrestling and ground-and-pound I thought that was really eye-opening. Post-fight Melendez challenges the UFC champion (Frankie Edgar at the time but obviously it’s Benson Henderson now…) and of course, he’ll finally get that fight in a couple of months! Personally I can’t wait and after properly watching this I give him a much better chance than I did previously.

-Announcers wrap up the night with a highlight reel and then Frank Shamrock says anyone who thinks they’re the top 155lber in the world needs to come to StrikeForce and fight Melendez to prove it. Doesn’t quite work like that! I’m so excited for Melendez in the UFC now it’s not even funny.

Final Thoughts….

This felt like the show that everyone forgot about, I guess because it was so close to Christmas or something, but really it’s sort-of understandable that it was forgotten because honestly there’s nothing overly memorable here outside of Cyborg testing positive for the juice. I’m giving that fight the ‘Worst Fight’ award despite it being the only finish on the show, as nobody wanted or needed to see a squash match like that. Outside of that the rest of the fights were decent enough, but like I said, nothing truly memorable or outstanding. Still, it’s got me more excited for Melendez in the UFC so who am I to complain? Thumbs in the middle, leaning slightly up for this one.

Best Fight: Melendez vs. Masvidal
Worst Fight: Cyborg vs. Yamanaka

Overall Rating: **3/4

Until next time…