After 15 rounds, the trilogy between Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson is over. The war, however, may not have been settled at Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier on Saturday night in San Jose, Calif.
Melendez won a narrow split decision in the rubber match between the two Bay Area friends, although many in attendance at the HP Pavilion booed the decision.
Melendez was faster out of the gate, taking the center of the cage, cutting off the majority of Thomson’s movement. He continually pressured Thomson throughout the fight, sticking his jab in Thomson’s face and landing some good body shots, especially early on. He also mixed in several takedowns, putting Thomson on his back early in the fight.
But every time Melendez got Thomson to the mat, he would pop almost immediately back to his feet. Though he couldn’t get his patented ground and pound assault in action with Thomson, Melendez did catch him on the way back to his feet with punches and knees several times in the bout.
Just when it looked like Melendez might dominate his way to a decision, Thomson kicked into gear.
Thomson put Melendez on the mat with a tricky trip takedown late in round four. Melendez gave up his back while trying to escape, and Thomson took full advantage, jumping on Melendez’s back and locking on body triangle. Thomson sunk the rear naked choke, but couldn’t slip his elbow under the champion’s chin. Thompson road out the round on Melendez’s back, but couldn’t find the finish.
The fifth round was another good one for Thomson as his striking was more fluid and quicker than it seemed earlier in the fight, and he scored the trip takedown again. This time he couldn’t dominate as he did at the end of round four. Once he got Melendez to his back, Thomson primarily held him down, while Melendez fired off a flurry of punches from his back until the final bell.
The judges scorecards read 48-47 across the board, two of them in Melendez’s favor, one for Thomson, keeping the Strikeforce belt around Melendez’s waist.
“We know each other real well. It’s a battle of the bay. He’s a tough guy,” said Melendez after the fight, although he didn’t side with those booing him.
“I thought I won most of the rounds. I know he took me down in the fourth round. I thought I had control. I just started cup-caking it out there. It wasn’t my best performance.”
Thomson, however, didn’t side with Melendez’s detractors either.
“He’s one of the best fighters, if not the best in the world,” he said. Adding, “He fought a great fight. Tonight wasn’t my night; the judges gave it to him.”
The frustration of being the Strikeforce champion, where the majority of fight fans and many pundits say that Melendez can’t prove his position as one of the top lightweight fighters on the planet, appears to be wearing on Melendez.
He admitted that he had a difficult time getting motivated for the fight when he has everything to lose with little to gain fighting opponents like Thomson.
“It’s just not as motivating. I have everything to lose; he’s got everything to gain,” Melendez stated. “I’m in a lose-lose situation with Josh. Even though I won, I lost.”