Melendez & Henderson deliver 5 rounds of fight in thrilling lightweight title bout

April 20, 2013

San Jose, Calif. -- Ben Henderson defeated Gilbert Melendez via split decision (48-47 Melendez, 48-47 Henderson, 48-47 Henderson) to retain his lightweight title in a closely-contested five-round battle at the HP Pavilion Saturday night.

Melendez (21-3), originally from Santa Ana, California, but fighting out of San Francisco, was clearly the crowd favorite, while Henderson, the reigning lightweight champ from Colorado fighting out of Glendale, Arizona, entered with an impressive 19-2 record.

The fans were in an outright frenzy in the minutes leading up to the main event, as vignettes of each fighter’s face to canvas-inducing strikes shown overhead on the massive arena screens pricked the crowd’s anticipation for an action-packed fight.

They would not be disappointed, as the action inside the octagon more than matched the hype.

In the first round, Henderson nailed Melendez early with some accurate leg kicks, but Melendez had an immediate chance to cause some damage when Henderson lost his balance in an exchange and fell backward to the mat. Crouching down in a predatory stance, Melendez pounced forward to land a strike to the head, retreated backward, and then began to engage Henderson’s guard.

Henderson connected with a chopping heel kick forcing Melendez back and thereby allowing Henderson to stand. Later, Melendez successfully caught a kick by Henderson, dumping Henderson down to the mat and landing a knee to the body.

In Round Two, Melendez became more active with his punches, connecting with a strong overhand right. In an attempt to send his own message, Henderson threw a short inside elbow at close range that barely missed. Both men traded punches and kicks throughout the round, as neither fighter held back their attack.

In Round Three, Henderson moved to the center of the octagon and threw a lighting fast right-left-right combination to the head of Melendez. The punches did not hit their mark, but the aggressive tone was set.

Henderson then connected on a leg kick that swept Melendez to the mat, but Melendez got up quickly and negated any further advantage.

In the closing moments of the round, Melendez landed a right kick that slapped loudly against Henderson’s ribs, but the final strike would belong to Henderson, who with a kick to Melendez’s planted left leg, again ushered the fighter to the ground, resulting in a small flurry of elbows to the head as the last seconds ticked away.

To start the fourth round, Henderson came out as the busier fighter. Pressing forward, he searched for his striking distance with a few probing punches and forward leg kicks. When Melendez became the aggressor and missed with a right leg sweep, Henderson countered with a left leg sweep of his own, knocking Melendez’s legs out from under him. However, Henderson was only able to manage one noteworthy blow to the head before Melendez stood.

With 19 seconds remaining in the round, Melendez easily caught Henderson’s waist high left kick, but opted for a straight right hand rather than a takedown. Henderson then managed to sneak in several right heel kicks to Melendez’s thigh before the end of round.

In the final round, there was no lack of confidence by Henderson. He attempted a jumping switch kick which Melendez dismissed with a right hand block.

Melendez stalked Henderson, but Henderson was elusive, continuously gliding to the left and avoiding any danger. Henderson’s speed and endurance advantages became obvious late in the fight, as he still effectively landed kicks to Melendez’s inner left thigh. The last minutes involved Melendez continuing to press and looking for a chance to mix it up inside, but most of the punches he did throw missed their target.

At the end of the battle, both fighters simultaneously raised their hands feeling that they had won the fight. When the decision went to Henderson, a visibly incredulous Melendez fell to his knees and the crowd chimed in with a cacophony of boos.

Ironically, those boos subsided when Henderson dropped to one knee and proposed to his girlfriend in the middle of the octagon.  She would give him two things to smile about at the end of the night by saying “yes.”

By Michael Chavez
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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