55 fights, 25 knockouts, 8 submissions, 6 titles, some eight Fight of the Year awards from several of the sport’s leading sources—just a few of the combined accomplishments amassed by Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez over nearly 25 years of pro competition. They are, without a doubt, two of the most accomplished lightweights in MMA history, and in the co-main event of this weekend’s UFC 188, they’re going to collide.
Needless to say, it’s going to be a fun fight. Neither man has ever been one to shy away from a brawl—just ask the likes of Diego Sanchez, Michael Chandler and Joachim Hansen. This makes such an outcome particularly likely when they meet in Mexico City. Furthermore, they’re two extremely potent finishers who gnash their jaws the second they smell blood in the water. But it’s more than the way these two decorated lightweights match up that makes this bout so special. This fight is years in the making.
For many years, Alvarez and Melendez stood out as the two best lightweights outside of the UFC, and because they were deprived of UFC competition, without real tests with which to quantify their skill, it was widely speculated that either man could be the best lightweight on earth. Even during the impressive UFC reigns of BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar, there were those who argued that Melendez and Alvarez might be even better. But of course, because the two fighters were locked into contracts with other organizations—Melendez with Strikeforce and Alvarez with Bellator— there was no way to know for sure how they’d stack up against the UFC’s best. There was, however, the thrilling prospect of a co-promotional bout between the two. Then, at the very least, we’d have a clear answer as to who was the best lightweight outside the UFC umbrella.
Of course, co-promoted bouts are never easy to arrange. Between broadcasting rights, contractual obligations, and branding issues, there’s a whole lot of red tape to cut through, which more often than not renders the very notion of co-promotion a pipedream. Yes, M-1, Dream and Strikeforce pulled it off and more recently Legacy FC and RFA did the same, but most of the time these things fizzle out before they can gain any momentum. That’s why WSOF’s recent callout of Bellator never amounted to anything. That’s why Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva didn’t happen until the UFC bought Pride and both fighters were years removed from their respective primes. It’s also why Melendez vs. Alvarez didn’t happen in 2009 or 2010. Of course, that didn’t stop the pair from exchanging cross-promotional barbs, but the fight was simply never going to happen while the two were under contract with different organizations.
Today, after essentially being held captive by Bellator and Strikeforce, Alvarez and Melendez finally fight under the same banner, and a fight between the two is finally happening. And while, much like a Urijah Faber vs. Kid Yamamoto bout or Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva bout, this would be a cool matchup at any stage of either man’s career, the great thing about this looming Alvarez vs. Melendez showdown is that both men are still in their competitive primes. Both are still bona fide killers.
Yes, both faltered in their most recent bouts—Melendez against Anthony Pettis and Alvarez against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone—but they still remain fixtures of the top-10. That means that unlike the better-late-than-never Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva bout we finally got in 2007, this fight still means something for the rankings of its division. The winner of UFC 188’s co-main event will emerge as a real deal contender for Rafael Dos Anjos’ lightweight title.
Would the bout have been more meaningful in say, 2009? Perhaps, but even six years later, this fight still towers as one of the biggest and most relevant events in lightweight history. And though it’s certainly not of the calibre of a GSP vs. Silva bout or a Jon Jones vs. Cain Velasquez bout, don’t get it twisted: Alvarez vs. Melendez is one of the true marquee matchups of modern MMA, and it’s actually happening while both men are still at the top of the 155-pound heap. The fruition of this lightweight mega fight is a seriously big deal.
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