This Saturday, UFC 181 will treat the fans to not one, but two title fights. In the main event, Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks defends his welterweight title against Robbie Lawler in a rematch from their first encounter, when the two first fought for the vacated title.
The second title fight will be between lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and number one contender Gilbert Melendez. Pettis and Melendez were coaches on the 20th season of the Ultimate Fighter (still airing), and the finale will be on December 12.
Pettis won the lightweight title after defeating Benson Henderson for a second time back in August of 2013. Pettis hasn’t fought since then due to a knee injury followed by being asked to coach on season 20. Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez back in October 2013. Both fighters have not fought in over a year. With season 20 wrapped up, Pettis will now face what is possibly the worst style match up for him in Melendez.
Melendez is a nightmare for anyone on the ground with his wrestling and jiu jitsu skills. At 22 wins and only three losses (all by decision), the Caesar Gracie black belt has the gas tank to grind out Pettis into a decisive victory. Melendez has out grappled some of the best fighters in the world, including Sanchez, Shinya Aoki, Josh Thomson, and Clay Guida, to name a few.
Pettis is very explosive and a dangerous striker, he is not a flake on the ground either (brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). Pettis is 17-2, with both losses by decision, like Melendez, also never been stopped in a fight. Pettis was able to utilize Henderson’s wrestling with his striking and jiu jitsu, submitting him via arm bar. The only loss Pettis suffered in the UFC was against Clay Guida, an aggressive wrestler who pushes the pace and looks to control the fight on the ground.
Melendez is similar to Guida stylistically. Guida was able to take down Pettis at will. According to fight metric, Guida had eight take down attempts, succeeding five times. With his nonstop aggressive wrestling and boxing, Guida’s style put a flaw in Pettis’ game plan, neutralizing Pettis’ explosiveness (remember, styles make fights). Melendez will plan on using his dominant ground game and holding Pettis down for five rounds, grinding out a hard fought victory.
Pettis is going to have to do what it takes to defeat a solid wrestler: sprawl and brawl. Pettis will have to overcome any fear or nervousness of being taken down, and do what he does best, strike away. If Pettis doesn’t stop Melendez from taking him down, there will be a new champion in the lightweight division. Fightbetnetwork.com has the lightweight champ favored at -227, and Melendez the underdog at +246. It is perhaps the fact that Henderson was able to defeat Melendez, while Pettis defeated Henderson, twice.