Hand Injury Doesnt Faze Relentless Melendez
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Sept. 29 -- It wouldn't be wrong to suggest
that mixed martial artists are single-handedly responsible for the
outcome of their fights. On a chilly Southern Californian evening,
win single-handedly is literally what Gilbert Melendez (Pictures) did.
Looking to shed 10 months of ring rust, the undefeated Melendez
endured a busted right hand to out-point Japanese veteran Tetsuji Kato (Pictures) in a tougher-than-expected return
to competition in the U.S.
As Hugh Hefner and his entourage of Playboy bunnies sat cage-side,
the Strikeforce 155-pound champion combined with Kato to cap the
first MMA event at the iconic Playboy Mansion with a compelling
three-round non-title affair.
Melendez, 25, didn't look to slug early, opting instead for a fast
takedown. But Kato was unwilling to give up position so easily. The
squat 29-year-old Shooto veteran, who somehow managed to fight at
167 pounds early in his career, made it a fight until Melendez
connected with a perfect right straight that put him on the
Hailing from Southern California originally but now making his home
closer to San Francisco, Melendez (13-0) kept up a decent pace in
the first period and connected with heavy left-handed hammerfists
that bloodied Kato's nose to close out the opening five-minute
Just as Melendez gained momentum, he connected with a right that
caused him to wince and shake out the pain in his hand. While "El
Nino" never gave up using his right, he refrained from relying on
it as a bludgeoning tool.
Melendez smartly employed his power hand to feint and set up the
left, which soon delivered a steady dose of jabs, double jabs,
hooks and double hooks.
"I was throwing it to set up a left, make him open up," said
Melendez. "And a couple times I let it open up, try to measure for
the chin, but if I hit him on the top of the head it made me think
The California State Athletic Commission suspended Melendez 180
pending x-rays showing the severity of the damage.
"I know it's not broken," said Melendez, holding an ice pack to the
top of his swollen right hand. "I just need to heal it up."
In the final period Melendez battered Kato's already-beaten face
with a stream of lefts that pressured the Japanese fighter, who had
blood pouring from his nose and a cut above his right eye, and
sported a sirloin-worthy shiner around a quickly closing left
It was a gutsy effort from a Strikeforce champ intent on finishing
Kato (18-8), whom most predicted Melendez would walk through.
"I need to get back to training," Melendez said. "I'm not that
happy, to tell you the truth."
Taking time to heal should give Strikeforce enough breathing room
to sort out its plans, though it appears Josh Thomson (Pictures), also a winner Saturday at the
Mansion, is in line for an opportunity at Melendez's title.
"Me and Josh are good styles," Melendez said. "We spar all the
time. You know, he's a great fighter. He was a role model for me.
When I used to watch him, Hermes (Franca) and Yves (Edwards) go at
it, I always looked up to him. A guy I wanted to beat -- take that
as compliment. It would be cool to fight him. I think he's still a
great fighter, a Top 10 fighter still. But you know, I'm the champ,
dude, and I got to take all the challenges. That's my belt -- I
ain't giving it to him at all without a fight."
(Pictures) is fortunate that
Strikeforce rules prohibit elbows to the head while fighters are on
the ground. Had Joe Riggs
(Pictures) been able to use the
weapon, Jackson might not have gotten off as easy as being knocked
out at 3:56 of the opening round.
In his Strikeforce debut, Riggs manhandled Jackson, tossing the
veteran middleweight to the canvas and punching from various angles
So dominant was Riggs that he uncharacteristically gave up mount
and went for an armbar. Though he failed, it was a bold move and
showed that the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Riggs has room to grow as a
fighter despite having 36 bouts to his name.
The end came while Jackson, 40, fought from his back. The
25-year-old Riggs, who'd taken Jackson's back twice, connected with
various bombs that prompted Cecil Peoples to jump in and save "The
With the victory, Riggs (27-9) could be in line to test Cung Le (Pictures) later this year.
The previously mentioned Thomson scored a decisive victory over
Adam Lynn (Pictures) (11-8-0, 1 NC), stopping the
29-year-old Pennsylvanian at 4:45 of the first round.
Engaged in the clinch for much of the opening period, Thomson, 29,
took advantage when he had space to punch by plastering a straight
right to Lynn's jaw. The IFL veteran fell to the canvas, and
Thomson continued the punishment to seal Lynn's third bad stoppage
loss this year.
"I thought he'd be susceptible to clean stand-up," said Thomson,
who raised his record to 13-3-0 (1 NC). "I noticed that he does
punch combinations a little wide, and I was looking to capitalize
with straight punches down the pipe. And I was able to catch
With Thomson likely next in line for Melendez's Strikeforce title,
it could make for a potentially altered training regimen for both
men since the lightweights work regularly together at the American
Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.
"Without a doubt, him and I are going to fight," Thomson said of
Melendez. "Him and I know that."
(Pictures) made it three tight
split-decision losses in a row, falling on two judges' cards to
The lightweights traded punches in the cage for 15 minutes, which
caused the mingling crowd to pause and watch some mixed martial
The second period was the fight's best. Having opened a cut above
Evangelista's right eye, Coronel (2-3) unleashed a series of
counter left hooks that made the work of his opponent's corner
moot. A stream of crimson, the first blood of the night, trickled
down the 26-year-old Evangelista's face.
In the third Evangelista (5-0) scored with kicks to Coronel's legs
and landed the bout's only takedown in the final minute.
Cecil Peoples and Abe Belardo scored it 29-28 for Evangelista,
while Luis Cobian dissented with a 29-28 tally for the hard-luck
(Pictures) thumped Matt Lee (Pictures) to score a stoppage win at 1:33
of round one.
Lee (9-7-1) came out firing crisp strikes, to which the 23-year-old
Masvidal (12-2) responded by moving expertly around the cage. When
the lightweights met in the clinch, Masvidal pushed Lee, 37,
against the cage and unloaded a vicious series of strikes,
including elbows to the head, that put the Massachusetts fighter
down for good.
(Pictures) didn't get much of a
workout facing 40-year-old Bill
Mahood (Pictures). A quick takedown put Southworth
(8-4), the current Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, in
half-guard. Southworth, 37, popped Mahood to the left side of his
ribcage, prompting the Canadian fighter to address referee Marcos
The official moved in and, after Mahood (15-6-1) took another shot
to the midsection, stepped in to stop the fight just 75 seconds
after it had begun.
(Pictures) overwhelmed Ron Fields (Pictures) en route to a stoppage at 3:02 of
the first round.
Fighting at a catch-weight of 195 pounds, the 33-year-old Vitale
took Fields (18-22-1) to the canvas with a perfect slam-and-place
takedown that put him in side-control.
Vitale (24-7) used his legs to trap Fields' right arm, allowing the
UFC veteran to fire undefended punches to the head. Referee Nelson
Hamilton stepped in after it was clear Fields could not
Daniel Puder (Pictures) showed little in the way of
progression during his three-round unanimous decision over
Dalton (Pictures). Judges at ringside scored it
30-27 for the former professional wrestler.
He and Dalton (3-3-1) fought primarily in the clinch. Puder, now
6-0, looked for a guillotine choke in the first, but Dalton
remained calm and escaped after standing in the submission for what
seemed like three minutes.
Had the 26-year-old Puder wanted to stand on the outside and strike
-- and it didn't appear he did -- he would have had a tough time
against Dalton, 30, who moved into the clinch whenever he
Dewey Cooper (Pictures) moved to 2-0 as a professional
mixed martial artist. He is also now 2-0 against Adam Smith (Pictures), taking a unanimous decision win
for the second time in five weeks.
Cooper, a 32-year-old longtime veteran of the K-1 USA circuit, had
a decided edge on the feet. The southpaw landed several punches and
kicks, hurting Smith, 28, in the third with consecutive left
Nelson Hamilton and Abe Belardo scored the fight 29-28 for Cooper,
while Luis Cobian had it 29-27 for the Las Vegan. Smith fell to
(Pictures) finished 40-year-old
Eddy Millis (Pictures) at 2:05 of the opening round.
McWilliams fought off several of Millis' takedown efforts while
threatening the entire time with a guillotine choke.
When Millis (0-2) finally found top control, the head of the Shark
Tank fell back for a rather sloppy heelhook. McWilliams, announced
as fighting out of Team Garage, defended and quickly moved to the
mount. Millis turned to avoid punches to the face, and McWilliams
(2-1) sunk in the fight-ending choke.
Once Luke Stewart
(Pictures) found the mount against
Sam Liera (Pictures), the Ralph Gracie (Pictures)-trained fighter offered
undefended strikes before referee Cecil Peoples halted the contest
at 3:09 of the opening round.
Stewart (4-0) missed a high kick to start the bout and fell to the
canvas. He quickly sprang to his feet, but Liera (4-2) popped
Stewart with a right straight as penance for the mistake.
They soon clinched and Stewart, 28, brought the fight to the floor,
where he eventually passed the 23-year-old Liera's guard and
started a minute's worth of punches from the mount that prompted
(Pictures) capitalized off a solid
right hand to Miguel
Linares (Pictures)' jaw while the 135-pound fighters
battled in the clinch. After a tentative opening minute, Figueroa
and Linares, 20, clinched. The stout Figueroa (3-1) connected with
a short right hand and several punches to the body before an
uppercut dropped Linares (2-3).
Another punch from the 27-year-old Figueroa followed and referee
Marcos Rosales moved in to stop the contest, which was officially
ruled a knockout, at 2:09 of the opening round.
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