by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
In a highly anticipated lightweight battle, Shooto Welterweight Champion Tatsuya Kawajiri takes on Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez this weekend at Pride Shockwave.

Melendez, the #10 Lightweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings, was originally scheduled to take on Shinya Aoki at Pride Bushido 13, but an elbow injury prevented that fight, and it was tentatively rescheduled for Pride Shockwave 2006. Instead of facing Aoki, Melendez now faces an even tougher test in Kawajiri, who is the #3 Lightweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings.

A win could easily put either fighter in title contention. Both fighters are ranked in the top ten in MMAWeekly’s lightweight rankings with Kawajiri at number three and Melendez in at number ten. Expect this fight to be an all out war, as both fighters will be looking to line themselves up for a shot at the Pride Lightweight Championship, sometime in 2007.

Tatsuya Kawajiri has a 19-3-2 record in MMA and trains out of T-Blood with Mitsuhiro Ishida. Kawajiri is coming off a dominant performance over Swedish fighter Per Ecklund at the Shooto Champion Carnival. Kawajiri had the fight in hand from the opening minute as he easily controlled Ecklund on the ground using his wrestling to maintain superior position. In the process, Kawajiri rained down some heavy strikes that had Ecklund scrambling to find a better position, but Kawajiri kept the pressure on. Towards the end of the first round, the referee had finally seen enough and stopped the fight.

Kawajiri made quick work of Chris Brennan at Pride Bushido 12. After a brief exchange on the feet, Kawajiri landed a big knee that dropped Brennan. He followed up with strikes to get the quick win.

Kawajiri took on the charismatic but not always motivated Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett at Pride Bushido 11. He got a takedown early and controlled the fight on the ground. After a brief scramble, Bennett got Kawajiri’s back but was unable to even attempt a choke as Kawajiri quickly submitted him with a kneebar. Kawajiri’s bread and butter is his wrestling and his relentless ground and pound, but he has improved his striking by leaps and bounds over the last year.

Gilbert Melendez has an 11-0 record in MMA and trains out of Jake Shields Fight Team. Melendez made his Pride debut at Pride Bushido 12, when he took on undefeated DEEP Lightweight Champion Nobuhiro Obiya. This was a war, as Melendez showed why he is one of the best lightweight prospects in the world. For the entire fifteen minutes, Melendez was able to go full pace with Obiya. He landed the better shots on the feet and he was relentless with the ground and pound when the fight went to the mat. He dropped Obiya several times in the fight, but credit has to be given to Obiya, who hung tough and never gave up. In the end Melendez won a well-deserved unanimous decision.

Melendez became the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion at Strikeforce: Revenge when he won a split decision over the Clay Guida. In a five-round war, Melendez again landed the better shots on the feet and on the ground he was able to neutralize Guida’s wrestling with his own. Melendez never was in any real trouble except in the second round, when Guida had a rear naked choke locked on, but Melendez simply spiked Guida’s head on the mat and escaped. In the final two rounds, Melendez really poured on the strikes, but Guida was able to take it all and survive. Melendez has excellent wrestling but is known for his relentless pace at which he fights.

Wow! That is the only word that can describe this fight. This has the makings to be the fight of the year. Both fighters love to push the pace and neither ever stops coming forward. Whoever emerges as the winner of this fight should be the next challenger to the Pride Lightweight Championship.

It’s a tough fight to pick as both fighters are equally talented and have very little advantage over the other. In the stand-up, Kawajiri should have a slight advantage as working with a new boxing coach has done wonders for his striking. On the ground, it’s pretty much even as both fighters are primarily wrestlers and neither seems to have a distinct advantage.

What it all comes down to is which fighter will land on top once the fight hits the ground? Whoever it is will have a big advantage because they both have excellent control from the top with their aggressive ground and pound tactics. Kawajiri’s fight experience is better than Melendez’ as he has fought the tougher opponents and has done well. In a close fight, expect Kawajiri to win a decision over Melendez and set himself up for a rematch with Takanori Gomi for the Pride Lightweight Championship.