The Strikeforce lightweight title is up for grabs in a rubber match as the Cesar Gracie pupil Melendez defends his belt against the former titlist Thomson.
Melendez, 30, has been on a tear since avenging his only two losses against Thomson and Mitsuhiro Ishida. The Californian is coming off wins over Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Jorge Masvidal.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, Melendez has honed his boxing skills working alongside the Diaz brothers and boxing coach Richard Perez. Melendez is also a spectacular wrestler who isn’t afraid to mix it all up.
After recently submitting Jim Miller, teammate Nate Diaz called Melendez the world’s true lightweight champion. Despite two exciting bouts in the books, the buzz for a Melendez-Thomson trilogy isn’t particularly high because fans are eager to see Melendez test his skills in the UFC. Melendez wants to see it happen, but discounting Thomson as a viable foe could have catastrophic implications for the Strikeforce torchbearer.
Thomson, 33, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, defeated K.J. Noons this past March to earn another crack at the title. A veteran of the sport since 2001, Thomson has earned key wins over Melendez, Hermes Franca, Duane Ludwig, Nam Phan, Pat Healy and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, while losing his rematch against Melendez and dropping fights against Kawajiri, Clay Guida and Yves Edwards.
A product of the American Kickboxing Academy, Thomson’s training camp has coincided with co-headliner Daniel Cormier. The San Jose native really has no glaring weaknesses in his game as he combines a strong wrestling base with solid striking and submissions.
In assessing their recent performances against a familiar opponent in Kawajiri, Melendez simply obliterated the Japanese sensation in the first round of their April 2011 encounter, while Thomson was outwrestled in a disappointing decision loss in December 2010. Both fighters have similar weapons, but Melendez is simply one step ahead, particularly with his striking. If he finds success with his hands and secures critical takedowns, he will edge out key rounds en route to a competitive five-round triumph.
Verdict: Melendez via decision
Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (11-3) vs. Mike Kyle (19-8)
A compelling light heavyweight rematch is on tap as “Feijao” looks to right a wrong against Kyle in hopes of re-emerging as a force in the Strikeforce 205-pound landscape.
The 31-year-old Cavalcante, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and star pupil of UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, lost the Strikeforce crown to Dan Henderson in March 2011. The Sao Paulo, Brazil native rebounded with an impressive knockout of Yoel Romero Palacio last September.
“Feijao” earned the biggest win of his career in August 2010, finishing recent Bellator signee Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal with a barrage of vicious elbows to win the Strikeforce title. His other notable career victims include Antwain Britt, Aaron Rosa and Devin Cole.
The Brazilian southpaw rarely relies on his submission base as he utilizes an improving striking attack to keep his opponents guessing. He will be seeking redemption after succumbing to a knockout loss at the hands of Kyle in their initial showdown in June 2009.
The 32-year-old Kyle, another standout from the American Kickboxing Academy, has benefited from an extended training camp with Daniel Cormier ahead of a potentially career-changing bout. Kyle has been an active mixed martial artist since 2001, but only recently has the King of the Cage champion realized his potential in the cage. Since 2008, Kyle has earned key wins over Cavalcante, Jon Murphy, Tony Lopez, Abongo Humphrey and Marcos Rogerio de Lima, while suffering setbacks in heavyweight bouts against Antonio Silva and Fabricio Werdum.
Even when he fought out of his own weight class, Kyle put forth an admirable effort against “Bigfoot” Silva, dropping the gargantuan Brazilian with a stiff punch before eventually succumbing to his ground-and-pound assault.
Kyle is a heavy-handed slugger with strong wrestling skills. With an opportunity to make it 2-0 against the Team Black House representative, Kyle will look to seize the opportunity in order to cement his status as a top contender for the vacant Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.
“Feijao” is a tremendous prospect who has already faced some of the best fighters in the world, while Kyle is undefeated as a 205-pounder. With a victory over “Feijao” already under his belt, Kyle will possess a mental edge and a strength advantage. The American UFC veteran will unleash a heavy storm of punches when he finds an opening, finishing the Brazilian in the second frame for the second time, solidifying his place at the top of the Strikeforce 205-pound roster.
Verdict: Kyle via TKO, Round 2
Nah-Shon Burrell (8-1) vs. Chris Spang (4-1)
Young welterweight prospects will kick off the Showtime telecast as Burrell seeks his seventh consecutive victory against the rebounding Spang.
Burrell, 22, scored his biggest career win in January, earning a controversial split decision over James Terry. A product of Fight Firm, Burrell possesses great power for the 170-pound division and he will be looking to punish Spang with his repertoire of heavy strikes.
Spang, 24, saw action on the same card as Burrell in January, but he suffered the first defeat of his five-fight career, dropping a unanimous decision to Ricky Legere Jr.
The One Kick’s Gym pupil is the brother of Bellator middleweight finalist Andreas Spang and he hopes to replicate his sibling’s success in the Strikeforce cage. After dabbling in professional boxing, the Swede has developed strong hands, so fans can expect a stand-up battle between two hungry young fighters.
Spang could have an edge with submissions as he nearly finished Legere Jr. with a guillotine choke in the first round of their fight before the horn sounded. On the ground, however, Spang struggles with superior wrestlers. Spang is unlikely to seek takedowns, but Burrell’s more dynamic arsenal of strikes could be the deciding factor.
After three evenly matched rounds, Burrell’s combinations should leave a lasting impression with the judges as he ekes out a decision to improve his Strikeforce record to 4-0.