Melendez Bests Masvidal, Keeps Strikeforce Crown


Gilbert Melendez took care of business against Jorge Masvidal. | File Photo: Sherdog.com


Behind a relentless stream of two-, three- and four-punch combinations, Gilbert Melendez kept his stranglehold on the lightweight championship with a one-sided unanimous decision over Jorge Masvidal in the Strikeforce “Melendez vs. Masvidal” headliner on Saturday at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. All three cageside judges scored it for Melendez (20-2, 10-1 SF): 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46.

The 29-year-old champion has rattled off six straight wins.

“I had to do what I had to do,” Melendez said. “This guy was one of the toughest matchups for me, and I beat him at his own game. I think I’m more than a decent striker.”

Melendez found a routine home for his right hand in the first round, as he mixed in leg kicks and kept Masvidal off balance and unsure of himself. He caught an attempted kick from the American Top Team representative, drove him to the ground briefly and threatened to finish it with a standing guillotine choke. Masvidal escaped, only to be met yet again by Melendez’s relentless volley of punches.

Outside of a stiff left jab that resulted in some damage to Melendez’s right eye, Masvidal (22-7, 4-1 SF) had no real answer for the Cesar Gracie protégé’s attack. Leg kicks and occasional left hooks to the body were nice but not nearly enough to interrupt Melendez’s rhythm. The champion came forward, put punch after punch on the challenger and left no doubt as to who was the better man. Known for his takedowns and ground-and-pound, Melendez elected to go the standup route.

“I knew he was going to be working the sprawl really well, and I knew he was underestimating my striking,” he said. “I wanted to get the takedown, but he’s not an easy guy to take down. He has really good movement, really good distance, really good length. He doesn’t really walk forward, so it’s not really there. I was prepared for every scenario. I had to keep it on my feet, and I kept it there.

“He has to take my belt,” Melendez added. “This is my belt. He has to take it from me.”

The question now turns to what worthwhile challenges -- if any -- are left for Melendez in Strikeforce. Talk of a potential move to the Ultimate Fighting Championship figures to intensify in wake of his latest performance, despite UFC President Dana White’s spoken desire to keep Melendez under the Strikeforce banner.

“They need to bring some guys over here to challenge me,” Melendez said. “I’d like to challenge the champ, whoever it is in the UFC. Come to my hexagon, and let’s fight.”

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos retained her Strikeforce women’s featherweight championship in overwhelming fashion, as she stopped Hiroko Yamanaka on first-round strikes in the co-main event. It was over in 16 seconds, Yamanaka having been floored twice by the brutal power of the champion.

Cyborg (11-1, 5-0 SF) went on the offensive right out of the gate, as she leveled Yamanaka with a crisp right hook inside the first 10 seconds. The Brazilian swarmed, threatened briefly with a rear-naked choke and allowed the Japanese challenger to rise. Another flurry from Cyborg dropped Yamanaka (12-2, 0-1 SF) at the base of the cage and forced the stoppage.

“I trained hard for a year and a half,” said Cyborg, who had not fought since June 2010. “This is amazing. I love training and fighting. I want to fight more.”

On an 11-fight winning streak, Cyborg has finished her last five foes. Afterward, attention turned to a possible matchup with unbeaten Olympic silver medalist Ronda Rousey.

“I think [Rousey] speaks too much,” Cyborg said. “I’m ready; anytime, anywhere. I’m ready. Just come.”

Gegard Mousasi File Photo


Mousasi outworked St. Preux.

Onetime Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi dominated Ovince St. Preux for two rounds and then held on for a unanimous deicision in a featured matchup at 205 pounds. Mousasi (32-3-2, 3-1-1 SF) swept the scorecards by matching 29-28 counts, as he won for the 19th time in 21 fights.

Mousasi bashed St. Preux on the feet, took him down multiple times in the first two rounds and unleashed on the former University of Tennessee linebacker with heavy ground-and-pound. Twice, he came close to finishing it, first with a kimura and later from the topside crucifix position.

St. Preux (11-5, 5-1 SF), who entered the cage on an eight-fight winning streak, bounced back in round three, as he grounded Mousasi and eventually mounted him. Late in the round, he scrambled into top position, blasted Mousasi with a standing-to-ground left hand and locked in a brabo choke in the closing seconds. It was not enough.

Mousasi, a perennial title contender, seemed dissatisfied with his performance.

“I was sick before this fight,” he said. “It took a lot of my conditioning away, but I think I did enough to win. If I got the chance [to fight for the vacant Strikeforce light heavyweight championship], I would definitely do it, but there are some other contenders for the title.”

A cleaner, busier and more effective puncher, former EliteXC lightweight champion K.J. Noons captured a hard-fought unanimous decision from Billy Evangelista in a 155-pound showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Noons (11-4, 3-2 UFC), who halted the first two-fight losing streak of his career.

It was anyone’s fight through the first 10 minutes. Evangelista (11-2, 1 NC, 7-2, 1 NC SF) scored effectively in close quarters with punches, knees and standing elbows. Noons, as expected, was the superior fighter at a distance, where his jab, low kicks and lead right uppercuts took hold.

In the third round, Noons seemed to find another gear. The 29-year-old fired fearless uppercuts and jabs in volume, and he landed a head kick out of nowhere roughly 90 seconds into the frame. Later, Evangelista threatened with a standing guillotine choke, but Noons freed himself and returned to work in an upright position.

“Billy is a terrific fighter,” Noons said. “That was a war. He put on a show for all the fans. It’s great [to win] coming off a couple of losses. I think he’s great. I’ve got to become a better MMA fighter all around. I think people see me as a boxer, so I was trying to do the takedowns and kicks and put on a good show. That’s what it’s all about.”

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