The co-main event of the Showtime broadcast of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley is a lightweight title bout between champion Gilbert Melendez and challenger Tatsuya Kawajiri. This is a rematch from there 2006 PRIDE bout where Melendez barely edged out Kawajiri in a thrilling fight. Both fighters have wins over Josh Thomson, although Shinya Aoki crushed Kawajiri while Melendez routed Aoki.
The questions going into this one are: is Melendez ready for UFC competition? Can he even fight there? If he aces this bout against Kawajiri, what's left for him in Strikeforce?
I want to see a competitive fight here, but I think Melendez is really going to roll. Think about this: Melendez, one of the best lightweights in the world, hasn't fought in 51 weeks. Fifty-one weeks! That makes me incredibly sad because he is, like Mousasi, a special talent. He's coming off dominant performances against Josh Thomson and Aoki and is really hitting his stride. Kawajiri is no pushover, don't get me wrong, but I think Melendez, with the camp he's been in (with Jake Shields, Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz all getting ready to go at the same time), is going to have a distinct advantage here. Kawajiri, to his credit, is coming off a very good win over Thomson, but I see Melendez neutralizing him for the most part, winning a decision.
At Pride Shockwave in 2006, Cesar Gracie product Gilbert Melendez (18-2) vaulted into the spotlight by upsetting overseas standout Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-6-2) in an all-out dogfight. The decision for Melendez was unanimous to the judges, but not to all fans, as some found controversy in the outcome of veteran versus newcomer.
Everyone can at least agree that it was a light-speed, back-and-forth, barn burning brawl, and there's no reason why the rematch -- scheduled as the appetizer to the "Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley" main course -- shouldn't be just as entertaining. Both have worked diligently to distinguish themselves with the rare honor of being top-ranked lightweights outside of the UFC, and the only prediction I feel confident in is that sparks will fly in this one.
The Rules: The gist of Kawajiri's career took place in Shooto, Pride, and DREAM, where he freely bombarded knees to sprawling opponents in any position. Not only is this a crucial weapon in his arsenal that's become ingrained into his instincts through years of fighting, but transitioning to divergent guidelines can be mentally taxing, especially in the heat of battle.
Ring vs. Cage: I don't even want to touch the pros and cons of this debate, but I believe the ninety-degree angle corners and smaller square footage of the ring facilitated Kawajiri's clinch and grappling, and the open space in the cage will favor Melendez's newly enhanced elusive style much more.
The Balance: These two competitors are so similar and well-rounded in all aspects that even where one has a slight advantage, the other seems to hold an equalizing property.
Sparing the Blah, Blah: Rather than place unnecessary worth in the following speculation, my best suggestion is to go back and watch their first encounter, understand that these two are extremely evenly matched, soak in the broad range of martial arts technique they integrate so fluently, and hope we're treated to the same display.
I see this fight going similarly to the first, but with Melendez winning with more ease this time. Whereas his striking was loose and unrefined before, now it's become purpose-driven and significantly cleaner.
Kawajiri has a top-level wrestling game, but it's a basic game, too. Those basics are incredibly tight and hugely effective, but it's Melendez's adaptability along with his preparedness that will be the difference.
Should be one hell of a scrap either way.
My prediction: Melendez by TKO.