The world of mixed martial arts is truly a “what have you done for me” community. Many times stars are forgotten when they have a single misstep; especially on the grand stage that is the Octagon. At UFC 166 two lightweights will face off in a bout that will establish the winner as a name on the short list of title contenders for early 2014. Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez have both come up short in bids to hold the lightweight title, so this fight is vital to them both.
Just this past April “El Nino” lost his first bout in four years when he dropped a close fight to Benson Henderson via split decision at UFC on Fox 7. The former Strikeforce champion was looking to prove that all those years outside of the UFC didn't mean he wasn't the best in the division. The Skrap Pack member had his high points during the contest but was unable to sway the judges to give him the final say. While still considered amongst the best at 155, that fight pushed him back down the ladder and made his job tougher to receive another title shot.
Sanchez, on the other hand, has almost become a journeyman of sorts in the UFC. Bouncing back and forth between light and welterweight since 2009 hasn't given him the spark needed to uplift his career. While the record books have Sanchez as 3-3 in his last six fights, numerous arguments stand that he could be 1-5 had the judges went the way of the popular majority against Martin Kampmann and Takanori Gomi. As one of the last active members of the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, Sanchez is hoping to make one final run at a championship reign.
When looking at this bout, Melendez should be the favorite, however there are ways that Sanchez can win this bout; especially with his overactive style that can sway judges.
Melendez may not be a very technical striker, but he knows how to put punches together that score and cause damage. In his last three fights in the Strikeforce cage against Josh Thompson, Jorge Masvidal and Tatsuya Kawajiri he displayed his ability to land cleanly in an effort to control the standup aspect of the fight. He should be able to do the same against Diego who normally keeps a fast pace but comes in wildly throwing blows.
An area where “The Dream” may be able to control this fight is in the wrestling and ground aspects of the competition. It was expected that Henderson would try to out-wrestle Melendez quite the way Thompson did in their third fight however the fact that he didn't do so is what made that fight so close. Sanchez should try to implement that game to get the fight to the floor where he is very effective at both ground and pound or submitting opponents. While Melendez has never been stopped in such a way during his career, Sanchez can score enough points in what should be a close 3 round affair.
As the line for shots at Anthony Pettis's lightweight title forms behind Josh Thompson and T.J. Grant, both Diego Sanchez and Gilbert Melendez have a key opportunity to grab their place on that short list. Their match up at UFC 166 should be filled with intensity and action as both of these men push the pace in a way that can steal the show.