San Jose's Josh Thomson wins Strikeforce World Lightweight title after 5-round war with Gilbert Melendez
JOSH THOMSON POSES WITH THE STRIKEFORCE LW CHAMPIONSHIP BELT
JOSH THOMSON LANDS A LEFT KICK AGAINST GILBERT MELENDEZ
BOBBY SOUTHWORTH ENTERS THE RING FOR A LHW TITLE DEFENSE
Strikeforce's second promotion in 2008 featured a compelling main event matchup between two of the top lightweights in the Bay Area, Gilbert Melendez (14-2) and Josh Thomson (15-2). The fight two years in the making lived up to expectations, and it was Thomson who provided relentless pressure, agile movement and pinpoint strikes to emerge with the Strikeforce World Lightweight Championship after a grueling 5-round affair. San Jose's Bobby Southworth (9-5) defended his Strikeforce World Light Heavyweight Championship against Anthony Ruiz (20-11) in a departure from the main theme of the night, a theme of several quality local fighters run into a buzzsaw against stiff competition. A secondary theme of the night was to only partially put stock into the predictions and analysis of the mainstream MMA "experts" who, including this site, got a majority of this card wrong.
Josh Thomson vs Gilbert Melendez was the fight many came to see. The loyalties of the crowd were divided, but there were strong contingents for each with one group wearing "got punk?" tshirts and holding signs, and another larger group chanting Gil-bert, Gil-bert, Gil-bert. Thomson took a long stroll into the cage, and bowed to the crowd to acknowledge a hostile chorus of boo's with a smile. Gilbert sprinted down the runway, and he looked like focused and intense during the pre-fight instructions. Melendez was a heavy favorite heading into the main event. Many cited his big right hand, high work rate, and solid ground game as reasons he would emerge with a win. Thomson acknowledged that he was less than 100% after a shoulder injury suffered early in the year, and he would have to create distance, land heavy kicks and punches, and jump on Melendez if he was stunned or hurt. Thomson also acknowledged in an interview this week that his time wrestling at Stanford did not influence him much as a fighter, but he should have his takedown defense and his Javier Mendez inspired gameplan tested by the former San Francisco State wrestler Gilbert Melendez. Melendez, who touted his high school wrestling at Santa Ana high school, told the Orange County Register that he was disillusioned with his college wrestling team which eventually resulted in his move to train at Fairtex and the Cesar Gracie Academy.
Title IV has eviscerated many college wrestling programs in California (Berkeley, Chico State, Claremont, De Anza, Diablo Valley College, Foothill, San Francisco City, San Jose City, San Jose State, College of San Mateo, Santa Barbara, UCLA...), as many as 81 have been eliminated or closed down since the law was enacted. The regimented environment and lack of adaptation is not always a good breeding ground for a mixed martial artist, but in an interesting parallel professional MMA provides another level of competition for college wrestlers and serves as a career opportunity that may help spur growth in each sport.
First round Melendez-Thomson, Josh Thomston is very quick on his feet early. Short choppy steps keep him away from Gilbert's right, and he his moving his head very well. Melendez forces Thomson up against the cage, but a hard knee by Thomson allows him to break free. Thomson scores a single leg takedown, and maneuvers him up against the cage. After trying to gain Melendez's back, Melendez spins into him and scores a reversal. Pinned up against the cage, Thomson smiles at the HDnet cameras displaying a message printed on his mouthguard. It draws the ire of the entire section I was in, and several comments unpublishable here. The second round Josh Thomson starts strong with three BasRutten-esque liver kicks. The kicks slow Melendez, and force him to drop his right arm down to guard against kicks to the body. Thomson normally uses his front/push kick to create space, but he lands a hard kick to the head of Melendez that draws a loud reaction from the crowd. Melendez grabs onto a body lock to recover. Both fighters unload a flurry of strikes, but Thomson lands 5 punches cleanly to only 2 that land through arms and gloves. Melendez goes for a takedown and Thomson answers with an explosive sprawl, forcing him down into the mat. Melendez, still appearing hurt by kicks early in the round, moves around the ring to regroup. Thomson lands a hard knee, and a spinning back kick (CungLe-esque?) drawing another loud reaction from the crowd.
Josh Thomson starts the third round with a furious attack. Not the pace or the power of the varies strikes, but the accuracy and the way he is stringing together combinations. A knee may be followed by a 2-punch combination, a front kick with a right cross, a fake knee followed by a superman punch. He is also quicker to initiate action, forcing Melendez to react to his offense and forcing him into his gameplan. Melendez comes over the top with a right hand that backs off Thomson. Melendez trying to pressure Thomson, but he ends up trying to defend a single leg up against the cage. Thomson tries for his back, but falls over the top of him at the end of the round. Round 4 it is Gilbert Melendez who opens with a 4-punch flurry, and the crowd tries to rally behind him. Thomson spins to his left, and follows with a knee and a straight left to free himself. Inside low kick, front kick, front kick, front kick, Thomson is piling up the strikes. Conditioning in the final two championship rounds will be key, usually that is a Melendez strength but the offense from Thomson has slowed him down considerably. Combined with the footwork and head movement from Thomson, and the slow hand speed of Melendez, and the odds are stack up against the favorite from San Francisco. Thomson is hammering Melendez right elbow, but he winces after one kick and a slight limp is noticable after. Melendez is stalking Thomson, but the front kick is preventing him from coming inside and turning this into a grappling match. Thomson scores another double leg takedown, and instantly transitions into side mount. He attempts a rear naked choke, but the second attempt is sunk in deep with a body lock applying more pressure to the throat of Melendez. Thomson tries to stretch him out and finish the choke with Herb Dean hovering overhead, but Melendez breaks free.
The fifth and final round starts with a loud cheer from the crowd. Thomson pins Melendez up against the cage, and levers him to the mat. Melendez works to his feet on a failed RNC attept, and he has a bounce in his step. He knows he is behind on the scorecards with 3:30 remaining, and he tries to close off the cage but he can not catch the much quicker Thomson. Thomson lands a knee and a left that draw another loud reaction from the crowd. Both fighters have their mouths open breathing heavy, they are both leaving it all in the cage. Melendez tries to chase him down as the time winds down, but Thomson cycles around the cage until the final horn blares.
The San Jose native Josh Thomson earned a unanimous 5-round decision win for the Strikeforce World Lightweight Championship, with the judges cards reading 50-45, 50-45, 50-45. Compuscore stats via HDnet Fights showed Thomston landed 131 of 192 strike attempts (61%) to Gilbert Melendez's 66-275 (24%). Thomson also recorded 6 takedowns and 1 submission attempt. It was a career win for Thomson, whose dominant performance should move him into the top-10. The reason many local mma fans and media are very high on Thomson is that he has shown promise in so many different areas, if he can put it all together like he did against Melendez he can be a top 5 lightweight deserving a shot against the best in the division. Thomson has to develop a little more of a killer instinct and finish opponents after he has them hurt instead of giving them a chance to get back into a fight. Of his 15 MMA wins, Thomson only has 3 KO's (Adam Lynn, Gerald Strebendt, Jason Abajian) to go along with 8 submissions. For Gilbert Melendez, the loss to Thomson after an earlier loss to Mitsuhiro Ishida at the New Year's Eve Yarennoka event in Japan cloud his future short term. Thomson mentioned the possibility that he would like Strikeforce to bring in a top-10 fighter for him to face as a future opponent, but a rematch with Melendez would also be a big draw. Either way the outcome of the fight creates a little more drama for Strikeforce and the division, which is always a good thing.
The second most anticipated fight of the evening was an HDnet feature between Fresno's Billy Evangelista (7-0, 4KOs) vs Westminster CA native Nam Phan (14-5, 6KOs, 4subs). Evangelista dismantled local MMA instructor Clint Coronel on the Strikeforce Playboy Mansion card in Septembder, and KO's TUF veteran Marlon Sims in the third round on the Shamrock-Le undercard. Nam Phan is a name fighter in California who has run up impressive 3-1 and 6-0 records on smaller Palace Fighting Championship and King of the Cage cards in California. Phan has a 3-0 record as a professional boxer and a solid submission game, but in steps up in competition in the WEC, K-1 and Strikeforce Phan is 0-4 prompting many to suggest that he should drop down a weight class.
Phan tries to establish the tempo of the fight early with several combinations, but when Evangelista initiates a clinch the size disparity between the two fighters became apparent. Evangelista scores a takedown, and works Phan up against the cage and drops him shortly after he regains his feet. Dominant position by Evangelista with solid ground and pound. Phan starts round two stringing together more combinations. He is loading up on the right hand, and keeping his center of gravity low to prevent a takedown. A looping right by Phan staggers Evangelista back against the cage. Two combinations and a long right from outside find their mark. The Fresno Muay Thai specialist is showing very little movement on his feet. When he tries to come forward he eats a hard knee to the jaw. Phan sprawls with urgency this time as Evangelista tries to take him to the mat. A hard shot by Phan ejects Evangelista's mouthpiece, and he is dominanting the AKA fighter on his feet in the second round. Evangelista finishes the round battling to take Phan to the mat, but a large cut opens up on his head turning his platinum blond hair bright red.
The third and final round would not end without controversy. Evangelista misses with a high kick, and Phan responds with 2 combinations and a knee that splits the guard and lands flush. Evangelista is unsteady on his feet, and Phan is trying to connect with bombs from outside. Extended work against the cage earns Evangelista a takedown, but he does little with it and the referee stands them up. The final left of back-to-back combinations wobble Evangelista again and draw a large reaction from the crowd. The referees awarded Billy Evangelista a controversial split decision win (29-28, 29-28, 28-29). Compustrike stats via HDnet have Billy Evangelista landing 100-159 strikes (63%) to Phan's 70-162 (43%), with 4 takedown attempts to 0 in favor of the Fresno fighter. Sharkspage had the fight 29-28 Phan, as he clearly was the more dominant fighter in the final 2 rounds. Takedowns should be taken into consideration, but also you have to judge what you do with the takedown. Same goes for strikes, piling up the numbers is effective but command of the cage, effective power strikes, and the number of times a fighter is visibly hurt also play a factor.
On the rest of the card San Jose Bobby Southworth (9-5) defended his Strikeforce World Light Heavyweight Championship against Anthony Ruiz (20-11) with a 5 round unanimous decision win. It was a technical fight, but with a considerable amount of time spent grappling for position fans in attendance were very vocal with their calls for more action. Southworth mentioned he would like to face a bigger name in the post fight press conference, and recently signed Renato "Babalu" Sobral would make for a solid matchup on a future Strikeforce card. Miesha Tate (2-1) dismantled San Jose native Elaina Maxwell (2-3) earning a 3 round unanimous decision in an undercard match at 147 pounds. Sherdog tabbed Maxwell as a heavy favorite prior to the fight. Tate came seconds within an armbar submission in the first round, but Maxwell came close to her own armbar as the horn signaled the end of the third round. Miesha Tate controlled the majority of the pace and the tempo, and scored one of the many minor upsets of the night.
Chuck Norris World Combat League and kickboxing standout Raymond Daniels (0-1), he of the blistering airborne spinning backkicks, ran smack into the realization that kickboxing does not always translate well to mixed martial arts in the form of Jeremiah Metcalf (9-4). Daniels entered the ring with flash, performed a little breakdancing as the flames popped on the entrance runway. Once the bell rang, Metcalf took him directly to the mat. Daniels tried to hold on to a guillotine choke, but eventually Metcalf gains a dominant position and starts unloading with his ground and pound. Daniels very ineffective off his back. More of the same in the second round, as Metcalf eventually takes him down and works Daniels into a rear naked choke. He earns a RNC submission 59 seconds into the second round. Metcalf was a solid opponent, a very difficult draw for a fighter's mixed martial arts debut. If Raymond Daniels is brought along slowly, given some time to train and round out his game, his flamboyant personality and style would be a asset for Strikeforce. Daniels was the overwhelming fan favorite for the fight inside HP Pavilion.
San Jose native and Cung Le trained Anthony Figueroa (4-3) was given a chance to avenge a prior loss to San Francisco's Chris Cariaso (7-1) on the Shamrock-Baroni undercard. Sharkspage and MMA Junkie tabbed Figueroa as a fighter to look out for on the undercard. Cariaso scored an early takedown, and controlled his center of gravity and positioning to dominant Figueroa on the ground. Cariaso tried for a deep kimura attempt on the left arm, but Figueroa spun into the attempt and escaped. Cariaso tried to sink in a choke at the end of the first, but Figueroa finished the round landing a hard knee for his best strike of the round. Chris Cariaso started round 2 with a dominant position, and another kimura attempt this time on the right arm. Cariaso works into position, and submits Anthony Figueroa with a rear naked choke 4:34 into the second round. Also on the undercard, heavy fan favorite and Fremont Jose Palacios (3-1) lost a 3 round decision to Pacifica's Bobby Stack (5-1). San Jose's Alvin Cacdac (4-4) was immediately taken down by "Cowboy Karate" specialist Bryan Caraway (9-2). Caraway worked on a rear naked choke, and submitted Cacdac 1:39 into the first to silence a number of Cacdac supporters in the crowd. In the final swing bout which took place after the Melendez-Thomson and Phan-Evangelista bouts, San Jose's Jesse Gillespie (1-2) ran into a buzzsaw named Eric Lawson (6-2). Most of the fans and media had cleared out of HP Pavilion after the main event, save for a small group of Gillespie supporters who moved up to ringside. Lawson came into the fight with a Carlos Condit-esque snarl, and he opened up a cut on the head of Gillespie and finished the fight with a RNC 1:03 into the first round. Not a local-friendly card.
A photo gallery taken with a backup camera/lens is available here. More information on the event is available from strikeforceusa.net and hdnetfights.com. The main event should be featured on an upcoming episode of Strikeforce on NBC, more details will be posted in the future.
STRIKEFORCE 10 Melendez vs Thomson final results
June 27th, 2008
HP Pavilion, San Jose
Alexandre Trivino d. Eric Jacob
Submission (Armbar), 1-0:37
Jorge Interiano d. Travis Johnson
TKO (Doctor Stoppage), 2-3:00
Cyrillo Padhillo d. Jesse Jones
Decision (Unanimous), 3-3:00
Brian Caraway d. Alvin Cacdac
Submission (Rear-Naked Choke), 1-1:39
Bobby Stack d. Jose Palacios
Decision (Unanimous), 3-3:00
Chris Cariaso d. Anthony Figueroa
Submission (Rear-Naked Choke), 2-4:34
Jeremiah Metcalf d. Raymond Daniels
Submission (Rear-Naked Choke), 2-0:59
Miesha Tate d. Elaina Maxwell
Decision (Unanimous), 3-3:00
Bobby Southworth d. Anthony Ruiz
Decision (Unanimous), 5-5:00
Billy Evangelista d. Nam Phan
Decision (Unanimous), 3-5:00
Josh Thomson d. Gilbert Melendez
Decision (Unanimous), 5-5:00
Eric Lawson d. Jesse Gillespie
Submission (Rear-Naked Choke), 1-1:03
[Update] More notes from the event: Met Ron Kruck of Inside MMA at the prefight weigh-ins, and another Inside MMA staffer agreed that San Francisco's Darren Uyenoyama earned fight of the night honors in a decision loss to Hideo Tokoro on the recent Dream 4 card from Japan. HDnetfight's and Pancrase legend Bas Rutten was also calling the fights cageside. San Francisco Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Luke Stewart (5-1) agreed to fight three seperate opponents, but Shonie Carter pulled out with a hand injury, Joe Riggs was not cleared to fight because of an alleged prescription medication use, and late replacement Drew 'Nightrider' Fickett was pulled because of a conflict with a MFC fight July 25th in Edmonton. Also via a flyer left outside of the arena, Drew Fickett is scheduled to face Antonio McKee August 2nd at the Shooto Japan Scion Battleground event at San Francisco's Fort Mason Pavilion. Several other local fighters are slated to appear including Andrew Valladerez, Jose Palacios, and Borntofight kickboxing champ Roger Agtrap. More information is available at going.com.
MMA Junkie's Dann Stupp reported on the event live from San Jose, filing live play-by-play results, an event recap, and a look back at Strikeforce LHW champion Bobby Southworth's legacy. Sherdog.com posted an event recap, Thomson Takes Strikeforce Title in San Jose, and a solid photo gallery from photographer Dave Mandel. MMArated.com's Ariel Helwani also reported live from the event, with a post-fight interview with Josh Thomson, an event recap, and an interview with future Strikeforce featured fighter Kazuo Misaki. An earlier MMArated interview with Strikeforce ring girl Nicole Craner is also worth a view.
The San Jose Mercury News also featured the Strikeforce event front and center with a headline photo and article on the top of the sports page Satuday: Thomson takes Strikeforce title from Melendez. Aron Glatzer reported on Thomson overcoming a shoulder injury to win the title and his intimate knowledge of sparring partner Gilbert Melendez. A multimedia slideshow of the event from the Mercury News is available here.
[Update2] Thomson ditches life in fast lane for Strikeforce win - Josh Gross for Sports Illustrated.
Having stayed dry since January, Thomson now owns a meaningful title and is tremendous position to capitalize. Next on Thomson's plate could be a challenge against the Dream lightweight tournament winner -- Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Eddie Alvarez or Caol Uno -- said Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker.
Like UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn, who underwent a similar awakening, Thomson will go as far as he allows his talent to take him. Said a beaming Mendez: "This is the best Josh Thomson I've ever seen."
[Update3] Strikeforce Review: Thomson takes title - MMAweekly.com.