UFC

Melendez: Sanchez scarier than Hendo

Gilbert Melendez punches Benson Henderson in their lightweight championship bout
'El Nino' is coming off of a five-round lightweight championship war with Benson Henderson.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

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It's six months later, plenty of time to process what went wrong and how Gilbert Melendez lost by the slimmest of margins. If one judge had seen just one round differently, 'El Nino' might be walking into UFC 166 as the UFC lightweight champion instead of what he is: just another fighter looking for his first win in the Octagon.

Still, Melendez has few regrets, and little reason to look back. Not when opportunity is still there for the taking. This is the UFC, after all, and sometimes even a single thrilling win can vault you to the head of the pack.

In Diego Sanchez, Melendez may have the perfect foil, the one that draws out of him what Benson Henderson could not.

Because as much as Melendez respects the former lightweight champion, in some ways, he views Sanchez as the more dangerous matchup. The scarier one. And those usually result in the kinds of firefights that Melendez excels in.

"He brings that courage and that will to win to the table," he told FOX Sports. "That's one of my strengths as well. I do think I'm a better technical guy and I have better intelligence in there and that will make the difference in the fight, but when I go into a fight with Benson, I'm not really scared. I know it will be a competitive fight. But when I go into a fight with Diego, I take a deep breath. I know I'm going to get socked in the face. I know I'm going to sock this guy in the face. I know it's going to hurt. There are some fighters you feel that with, and there are some fighters you don't feel that with. It's a fight, but you know they can't hurt you. This guy? He'll take punishment just to give you a few as well."

While the champion is universally thought of as the division's best, he's not always considered the most intimidating. In Henderson's case, at the time he fought Melendez, he had been to seven consecutive decisions and hadn't scored a knockout in four years. Surprisingly, Sanchez's last knockout was even further in the past, coming five years ago. However, that’s almost incidental, as he's gained a reputation for drawing opponents into explosions of violence, with five of his last eight bouts winning the Fight Of The Night bonus.

Because of that, Melendez views him as a more dangerous option than even the man that he recently faced for the championship.

"I think we both do have some similarities with that. We both like to come forward. We'd both rather be the warrior than the winner sometimes,” he said. “We'd rather lose trying than winning with some boring kind of strategy. But I think the difference will be my intelligence. I think I've evolved as a fighter. I've become a smarter fighter. I have better tactics. I have better skills. I've sharpened up over the years. He's always shown toughness, but he hasn't really shown much evolution."

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