The San Jose crowd went wild for locals Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz and Daniel Cormier, and though they didn’t quite will their men to glory – Melendez and Diaz lost, while Cormier tested the crowd with a fifteen-minute grind – they did witness one of the most exciting fight cards in recent memory. The UFC on FOX event tied the UFC record for the most knockouts in one event with eight finishes, and culminated with a marriage proposal from the reigning champion.
Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez
Outgoing Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez’ forward motion, impeccable timing and fearless boxing from gave current UFC champion Benson Henderson his toughest test to date, but Henderson’s power and durability helped him eke out the split decision win between former WEC champions.
The two came out bouncing and jabbing, Henderson standing southpaw, but it was Melendez who moved forward and met all of Henderson’s flurries with counters. Melendez caught three of Henderson’s kicks during the round, using one for a takedown and two to drive the champion backward, then throw a knee.
In the second, Henderson flicked his jab furiously, but it was again Melendez who moved forward with a low kick and a right hand that connected. A frustrated Henderson fired back, but Melendez stayed in the pocket and fired back in kind. Melendez continued to chase, and eventually Henderson found his range with kicks and punches, but Melendez backed him up with strikes of his own and tossed off one takedown attempt. The two traded hooks, knees and elbows in a frenzied exchange in the center of the Octagon that the crowd loved, and Melendez again stymied Henderson’s kick attempt by catching it.
Henderson was forced back on his bicycle even as the third started and Melendez was less active – Melendez mixed up head and body shots as he came forward. Henderson scored with a leg kick that took Melendez’ feet out from under him, but Melendez still slipped most and countered every one of Henderson’s furious shots. Henderson launched for a takedown midway through the third and finished it against the fence, but Melendez threw shots the entire time and quickly got back to his feet. Henderson fired a massive kick, but again had it caught by Melendez; Melendez scored with a knee and a body kick. At the end of the round, Melendez caught a kick from Henderson and they both slipped to the mat, with Melendez pulling guard and Henderson unloading from the top, having to be pulled off by referee John McCarthy after the bell.
Henderson’s momentum carried over into the fourth, as he found homes for an elbow, body kick and and leg kicks, but he still struggled to score a takedown against “El Nino,” who continued to grab kicks off combinations. Melendez found himself being pressed backward as the fight wore on and gradually reclaimed the center of the cage. Another leg kick knocked him down and Henderson pounced on his back, but Melendez popped right back up and returned to moving forward.
The pace was slower in round five but the danger remained, as the champions alternated coming forward and throwing punches. Henderson seemed to land cleaner shots, but Melendez controlled the movement and stayed busy, his timing and gas tank still enough to catch kicks. With two minutes left and the bout potentially still up for grabs, the crowd erupted. Melendez threw a knee as he backed up Henderson, and again the crowd roared at the one-minute mark as Gilbert stalked his quarry until the final second.
Judges gave the bout to Henderson with scores of 48-47 twice and 47-48. Henderson capped the announcement by proposing to his girlfriend, Maria Magana, in the Octagon (she said yes). The moment briefly drew cheers from the San Jose crowd, who then promptly returned to their chorus of boos.
Henderson now holds a seven-fight win streak, including three title defenses that have all gone the distance, and a record of 19-2. Melendez’s own seven-fight win streak is snapped as he moves to 21-3.
Frank Mir vs. Daniel Cormier
Despite his 22-pound weight, 4-inch height and 5-inch reach disadvantage, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion and Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier used his mass and Octagon control to defeat former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir over three belabored and lopsided rounds.
Mir started out by throwing flashy high kicks, but none of them landed. Once Cormier had seen enough, he pressured Mir backward with strikes and pinned Mir against the cage. There was dirty boxing from both men, but by and large it was Cormier who called his shots, landing uppercuts, elbows, knees and more, while Mir seemed to have no answer for being stuck. During one prolonged stint against the fence, Cormier used his underhook to trap one of Mir’s arms above his head, and unloaded with body shots at will. Early on, Mir made space using kicks but that defensive tool waned as the fight wore on.
Round two was more of the same – after Cormier throw a flashy spinning kick of his own to the crowd’s delight, that is. Cormier met all of Mir’s strike attempts with a tie-up, established, cage control and did enough damage from the inside that the only restarts (save one toward the end of the second) were the ones he took on his own accord.
One of Mir’s high kicks grazed Cormier in the third, and Cormier caught his next body kick to threaten a takedown. Mir avoided it and landed some solid leg and body kicks before being mashed to the fence once and then twice before a referee restart. Mir briefly took the inside position against the fence, but Cormier quickly reversed and sealed it with a single-leg. Mir stood, only to be welcome by an overhand right, and then it was back to the fence until the clock ticked down.
Judges all had the bout 30-27 for Cormier, who remains undefeated with a record of 12-0; Mir departs 16-7. “I’m not happy with my performance," said Cormier. "I didn’t fight how I wanted. I controlled the fight. At the end of the day, I stay undefeated and move forward. I’m going back to work on Monday and I will learn from this.”
Watch highlights from Cormier's performance
Nate Diaz vs. Josh Thomson
After more than nine years in Strikeforce, lightweight Josh Thomson returned to the UFC by doing the unthinkable – TKOing the iron-chinned Nate Diaz in two rounds.
Thomson started off with leg kicks as Diaz stalked with his jab, flinging his limbs loosely and taunting Thomson in typical Diaz style. Thomson changed the mood by landing a huge high kick to Diaz’ head, but Diaz walked through it and then pressed the action to the cage. Thomson reversed and moved to the center, then slipped as Diaz charged again and threw strikes from behind. Diaz stopped Thomson’s second high kick by catching hit and throwing him to the mat. Thomson stood and after more cage pressure, got a takedown of his own. Diaz rolled out and stood back up, extending his middle finger to Thomson.
Diaz came out on a mission in the second, charging Thomson against the fence, then earning a brief break due to a low bow to Thomson. As Diaz pressed forward on the restart, it was Thomson who got the tieup and controlled from the inside. The two had a brief firefight on the break and Diaz – bleeding from the nose -- got a takedown. He threw punches from top, but Thomson again returned to the feet. Back on the fence, both threw more strikes from close quarters, and alternated between tie-ups and distance strikes at a fast pace.
Past the halfway point, a high kick from Thomson stunned Diaz, and the follow-up right hook dropped him. Thomson followed to the ground with hammerfists as Diaz rolled away, forcing Diaz’ corner to throw in the towel before referee Mike Beltran finally pulled Thomson off of the Stockton fighter (who, true to form, protested the stoppage).
The end came at 3:44 of the second and improved Thomson’s record to 20-5 (1 NC). “I couldn’t have scripted it any better," said Thomson. "He posed a lot of problems for me from his ground to his reach. My whole game plan was to pick him apart and take what he gives me. I think the difference for me was mixing it up -- punches, kicks, knees, takedowns, elbows. I did something the champ didn’t, I finished him. I was fighting in UFC before it was cool. I started my career here and I’m so happy that I get to finish it here.” Diaz drops to 16-9, being knocked out for the first time ever and losing his second in a row after his December 2012 title attempt.
Watch highlights from Thomson's performance
Matt Brown vs. Jordan Mein
Welterweight veteran Matt Brown was the only fighter in the UFC to earn four wins in 2012, one of those a shutdown of up-and-coming kickboxing prodigy Stephen Thompson. He extended his string to five wins in the UFC on FOX opener, this time taking down the much-hyped 23-year-old Canadian elbow specialist Jordan Mein with a TKO in the second.
Mein came out guns blazing, moving in with a big right hand and elbow that touched Brown. The equally rangy Brown isn’t one to stay on his heels, however, and he fired back with right hands of his own, one of which bloodied Mein’s eye. Brown swarmed with strikes and a big head kick, but survived. Brown ate a left, then stumbled Mein and landed a knee to the body before a brief stoppage to check on Mein’s eye. Brown went on to knee Mein’s body and head again from the clinch, but a body shot from Mein appeared to drop Brown. Brown clung to a single leg as Mein followed with punches. Mein’s left hands from top position looked to put Brown in danger, but then Brown threw up a tight triangle choke, pulled on Mein’s arm and elbowed him in the head. Mein escaped, but back on the feet, Brown threw more knees from the clinch and vicious shots against the fence until Mein was saved by the bell.
Mein looked exhausted when he answered for the second, and Brown showed no mercy. He swarmed and issued several knees to the head from clinch, then locked in a guillotine and rolled for a takedown. With Brown on his back throwing through punches Mein tried to stand, but Brown was relentless. Mein kept one hand on the ground to try and avoid a knee to the head, but Brown threw elbows to his back until Mein fell to his knees again in pain, absorbing elbows until the referee waved it off just one minute in.
Brown’s win brings him to a total record of 19-11, with all but two of the brawler’s wins coming by finish. Still only 23 years old, Mein slips to 27-9. “Jordan’s hype was well-deserved,” said Brown. “He hurt me really bad with that body shot -- I was close to being incapacitated and unable to defend myself.”
Watch highlights from Brown's performance
UFC on FOX 7: Bendo Keeps Title on Main Card
April 20, 2013