by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Strikeforce on Showtime kicked off in exciting fashion with a top contender in the lightweight division being crowned, and two middleweights putting on a “Fight of the Year” candidate.

Gilbert Melendez did exactly what he had to do to get a piece of the Strikeforce lightweight title by knocking out Rodrigo Damm in the 2nd round, thus earning another shot at the man who took his title, Josh Thomson.

The first round saw total domination from Melendez who took Damm down early, and simply overpowered and overmatched him on the ground. The Cesar Gracie student unleashed a flurry of punches keeping Damm underneath him for almost the entire five minute session.

Damm was able to stuff a couple of takedown attempts from Melendez in the 2nd round, but in the end staying on the feet backfired. With Damm back peddling towards the cage, Melendez threw and landed a gigantic right hand that put his opponent down on the mat, ending the interim title fight.

With the win, Melendez solidifies himself as the top contender in the lightweight division, and he will wait for champion, Josh Thomson, to heel his broken ankle and get back in action.

“Josh Thomson, he’s the true champ right now, he beat me fair and square,” said Melendez following his win. “I’m just trying to get back in here and I’m better than that last performance, and I want to get a rematch against him and do it again, do it better.”

In a battle of middleweights that absolutely lived up to expectation, Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith pulled off a spectacular KO win over Benji Radach after an absolute war between the two 185lb contenders.

Radach and Smith went after each other with everything they had in every round. After being dropped by Smith in the first round, Radach battled back and actually hit his opponent with a big shot, hurting him late in the first five minute session. Smith was able to survive and move on to the 2nd round.

The 2nd round saw Radach land a huge shot on the side of Smith’s head, and as he followed up the California native could only shoot in for a takedown to try and stop the punishment. Radach kept coming forward, but Smith did enough to regain his composure and again make it out of the round

As the fighters again put on a stellar performance in the third round, Smith kept coming after Radach and as they exchanged strikes, the former WEC champion landed a monstrous right hand that sent his opponent crashing down to the mat. Smith followed up with a few more strikes, as referee Herb Dean rushed in to stop the fight.

“I counted myself out even a couple of times,” Smith admitted after the fight. “I owe it to the fans and everybody out there to lay it absolutely all on the line and I did, and I was fortunate enough to land the hands of steel right across his face.”

Both Smith and Radach deserve a ton of credit for their parts in possibly the best fight so far in all of 2009.

If there was ever a case for stricter weight classes in women’s MMA, Cris Cyborg defeating Hitomi Akano was the perfect example on Saturday night. The much bigger Brazilian literally tossed Akano around the cage like a rag doll for the better part of three rounds, before finally putting her Japanese opponent away with a series of punches in the final round.

To Akano’s credit, she stayed tough and worked hard for submissions whenever she could, but Cyborg’s size was simply too much. The Chute Boxe trained fighter pummeled Akano on the feet, and eventually landed a series of big right hands ending the fight in the third round.

With women’s superstar, Gina Carano, sitting cageside, Cyborg addressed her potential opponent after the big win.

“I want the belt, I want to be the best female fighter ever,” Cyborg stated through her translator. “If Carano is in my way, I will take Carano down.”

Making a big impact to start the night, Brett “The Grim” Rogers, put away former BET Iron Ring king, Abongo Humphrey, with a vicious KO in the 2nd round of their heavyweight fight to kick off the Showtime broadcast.

Rogers was the more dominant fighter the entire time, but he dealt with a point deduction from referee Herb Dean in the first round when he continuously grabbed his opponent’s hair from the clinch. Despite the hair pulling, Rogers still landed the much better strikes throughout, while keeping Humphrey off balance and stuffing his takedown attempts.

The 2nd round saw Rogers completely take over with another series of big strikes and when the fighters clinched against the cage, “The Grim” took over with a barrage of knee strikes that battered his opponent. Humphrey tried to avoid the damage, but he took one punch too many and fell to the mat, and Dean stepped in to stop the punishment.

“He wasn’t trying to go down in that first round,” Rogers said after the win. “Everybody was like ‘oh it’s going to be a piece of cake’ but you know what, I’ve been there in his feet, I know he was not just trying to come up in here and you know fall down easy.”

Rogers now throws his hat in the ring of the Strikeforce heavyweight division, led by champion Alistair Overeem, who could defend his title as early as June.