(Melendez tags Thomson at Strikeforce Evolution. Check out the full gallery here.)
The first fight between Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez put Thomson on the MMA map. The long-delayed rematch was an instant classic as Melendez won his Strikeforce Lightweight Championship belt back. The third scrap, says Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, could be the charm.
“When the trilogy happens, I think now all eyes will be on this fight because its, you know, it was an amazing fight,” said Coker during a recent Sherdog.com interview. “I think that’s a CBS fight.”
While the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweights have better name recognition, small fighters pack a big marketing punch for any promotion and the fight footage San Jose-based promotion now possesses is an ace under its increasingly fashionable sleeve.
Airing the fight for free on CBS as Coker alluded to would be a major power play if the conclusion resembles its first two chapters in any way. Pride was built partly on the framework laid by Kazushi Sakuraba-Wanderlei Silva and the UFC was built partly by Randy Couture-Chuck Liddell. Strikeforce is still smaller in many ways, but is in a similar position the UFC was with Couture-Liddell after the second fight. The series was split 1-1 with the second bout taking place under the post-Griffin-Bonnar Boom klieg lights.
Thomson vs. Melendez II was a climax, but both the fighters and fans need a third act for final resolution.
But before that happens, Melendez has set his sights on other challenges.
“El Nino” called out Shinya Aoki on Dec. 19. While in camp for the bout, he allowed me to document his journey to the title, including a breakdown of an expected bout between DREAM Lightweight Champion Shinya Aoki and number one contender, Japanese “Crusher” Tatsuya Kawajiri. Coker furthered a Melendez-Aoki unification bout, but the grappling wizard must get past a strong wrestler with grit and guns for hands.
“I hope [I fight] Aoki because I haven’t fought that guy and hopefully I win, but Kawajiri’s tough. It all depends [on Aoki]. They used to train together. I think that’s an advantage to Kawajiri. I don’t really think—Aoki is a guy you’re not really scared of, say he grapples him like three or four times, he’ll catch you in all of his moves then you kind of become familiar with it and know how to expect it.
“If I had a chance to do a tournament with Aoki, I would do it and get tapped out or feel him. Feeling him for the first time in a fight can fuck someone up but the fact that Kawajiri has rolled with him and sparred with him a lot, he might already know all that stuff. He might be able to double leg and take him down and not get submitted. I don’t know—Kawajiri might pull it off I think.”