Henderson, Melendez meet in UFC title bout
By RICK EYMER
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- UFC lightweight division champion Benson Henderson cares less about where a fight is held and more about the outcome. Let it take place in the parking lot of a convenience store and he'll still just want the win.
Gilbert Melendez's mixed martial arts career was in full bloom while Henderson was still in school. He's getting his first UFC opportunity in a title match against a former admirer.
Melendez, the No. 1 challenger, meets Henderson with the title on the line Saturday at HP Pavilion.
Former heavyweight champion Frank Mir and challenger Daniel Cormier, who fights out of San Jose, meet in another compelling match on the main card.
The 29-year-old Henderson, a two-time NAIA All-American wrestler at Dana College in Nebraska, remembered watching the 31-year-old Melendez, who wrestled at San Francisco State.
"I thought it was cool seeing another ex-college wrestler," Henderson said.
Henderson (18-2 overall) is undefeated in the UFC ranks, owning a six-fight winning streak since moving to the UFC from the WEC two years ago. It's the longest current streak among lightweights and matches the third-longest winning streak overall.
He said he doesn't bother looking for added motivation. Winning is motivation enough.
"I don't like losing, period," he said. "A fight is a fight and a title is a title. If it's behind a 7-11 I don't care, I'm going to beat him up."
This is Henderson's third title defense since taking the belt away from Frankie Edgar in February 2012. His last defense, a unanimous decision over Nate Diaz in December, was his most dominant, with 124 significant strikes and eight takedowns.
Melendez has won his last seven fights, all with Strikeforce. His last loss was to Josh Thomson -- who meets Diaz in the main card fight -- in June 2008.
Melendez, who works out of San Francisco, is comfortable in San Jose, where he is making his ninth professional appearance.
"I know it's go time," said Melendez, the Strikeforce lightweight champion. "I'm prepared. It has been a roller coaster ride and now I'm here for a title shot, so it's been a good journey."
Melendez said he considers Henderson a new breed of fighter who can put it all together.
"He's agile, athletic and tactical," Melendez said. "But it isn't about Benson; it's about beating the champion. I still feel that I am on top of my game. I still feel youthful."
Cormier and Mir were scheduled to fight last November but an injury forced Mir to postpone.
Mir, ranked sixth, has the most wins (14) in the heavyweight division, although his last three losses were all title shots.
He changed his training habits, spending nine weeks in New Mexico instead of staying in his hometown of Las Vegas to build stamina.
"The isolation led to focus and drive," Mir said. "In the past my conditioning has been suspect. I've never trained like I should have and won a lot of fights I should not have won."
Cormier, ranked third, has never lost in 11 career fights, the last eight with Strikeforce. He hopes a win over a former UFC champion leads to a UFC title shot.
"Frank is condescending," Cormier said. "He talks down to you and that's the worst kind of trash talk. He's not going to be smiling in the cage, it's going to be knocked off his face."