After years of calling each other out, UFC lightweights Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez will finally have a chance to battle it out inside the Octagon. The two are slated to meet in the co-main event at UFC 188 in Mexico City.
A rivalry dating back to their days with the Strikeforce and Bellator promotions respectively, Melendez and Alvarez started trading verbal jabs long before they were even on the same roster. Perhaps goaded by former Bellator head honcho Bjorn Rebney to boost his then-fledgling promotion, the pair of ex-champions have seen this matchup coming for nearly five years.
“Eddie’s a guy I wanted to fight a while back. Over the last couple years I felt like he fell under the radar and he’s kind of been running his mouth a little about me,” offered Melendez back in September. “At this point I think he’s maybe top 10, so he’s a little below my radar, but I’d be more than happy to knock him out.”
Back in 2010, when Melendez and Alvarez were still holding titles in their former promotions, Rebney called out Strikeforce boss Scott Coaker, who ironically now runs the very promotion Rebney created, attempting to pit his top 155-pounder against Melendez. The fight never materialized, but the pair of Latino-American fighters continued to covet the potential matchup.
After Alvarez was forced to sit on the sidelines for a year during a tumultuous legal battle with Bellator, Melendez transitioned over to the UFC, fighting for the lightweight title in his promotional debut. Melendez would lose his title shot, dropping a razor-thin split decision to then-champ Benson Henderson in April 2013, before topping Diego Sanchez via decision in a match for the ages at UFC 166.
With his UFC contract up, Melendez explored other options outside the Octagon, and Bellator immediately came calling.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC
By this point, Alvarez had already returned to the Bellator arena, resolving his contract dispute, and winning his title back from Michael Chandler via split decision. The fight with Melendez seemed to be a real possibility, but the former Strikeforce king merely used contract negotiations as a bargaining chip, leveraging his position into an immediate title shot against new UFC champ Anthony Pettis, along with a coaching position on The Ultimate Fighter.
Of course, Melendez would have to wait more than a year for his chance at Pettis, and during this time, Rebney would step down from his role at Bellator, replaced by Coker. And with Coker now at the helm, Alvarez was granted his release, walking away from the circular ring with the belt in tact.
For his first taste inside the Octagon, Alvarez was partnered with a surging Donald Cerrone. The Cowboy would take the contest via unanimous decision, and two-and-a-half months later Melendez would falter in his second UFC championship match, submitting to an Anthony Pettis guillotine choke in the second round.
The bout with Alvarez seemed a real possibility at this point; however, with Alvarez slated to face Henderson in Boston in January 2014, it became unclear when the pair would finally have their day.
Then came the flu…
Suffering from severe flu-like symptoms, Alvarez pulled out of his bout with Henderson, although he later revealed that his illness was compounded by ongoing family issues during the recent birth of his daughter.
And now, with both fighters coming off losses, the UFC has set up a highly anticipated grudge match, in Mexico City of all places, a perfect location for this pair of Latino Americans.
Now let’s just hope nothing else gets in the way of this fight that’s been five years in the making.
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