As we approach UFC on Fox 7 this Saturday, the world wants to know: will former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez prove that he really has been a top lightweight throughout his Strikeforce tenure, or will UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson reveal him as a fighter who benefitted from starring in fights outside of the UFC?

To Melendez’s credit, though, he starred on those fights outside of the UFC because Strikeforce needed headliners, and Melendez established himself as a headliner who would always compete in the marquee fight of certain cards, even if a number of his title challengers proved less than desirable. In other words, nobody should fault Melendez for the fact of how long it took before the UFC finally got him.

A fighter with Melendez’s style may appear as something with which fans are already familiar, considering that two of Henderson’s past three fights came against another high-octane fighter in Frankie Edgar. But Edgar’s style of boxing differs from Melendez’s less elusive striking attack and his ability to grind fights out using his wrestling. Then again, anything can happen between now and fight night, so perhaps Melendez’s style will incorporate a few pages from Edgar’s book when the cage door shuts.

In any event, the pressure falls on Melendez’s shoulders, perhaps more so than it does Henderson. Champions always bear the pressure of performing to their best abilities, but Melendez bears the pressure of proving that his talents were worth the wait for UFC fans. Remember, the sport of MMA calls for the best fighters in the world to face each other at their best, but sometimes, we see some fighters reveal themselves as pretenders who benefited from fighting inferior competition.

Obviously, Melendez’s trilogy with Thomson should have proven that Melendez does not take inferior fights, but in fairness, Thomson doesn’t bring Henderson’s skill set. Henderson will employ his leg kicks, wrestling, volume striking and size in an attempt to stop the momentum of Melendez’s current winning streak,. Melendez makes fights personal with the tools we mentioned before, and only he knows how to use them in order to cement his claim as the sport’s best lightweight.

Again, though, the pressure on his shoulders does not concern his claim as the sport’s best lightweight as much as it concerns his status as an elite lightweight. Defeating Henderson puts him in a class above the elite contenders of the division, whereas an impressive showing proves that he deserved his elite status, even in defeat.

Even with a loss to Henderson, Melendez can improve as a fighter and work for another chance to cement his claim as the best. Right now, though, he benefits most from putting the division and Henderson on notice through his efforts on Saturday. He does not need to necessarily beat Henderson or make an argument towards a decision win, but before he can prove himself as the best, he must take it to the champ and prove himself as elite.

Photo: Gilbert Melendez (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.