Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thompson. Photo by Jon Swenson.
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Following a year of anticipation, Strikeforce World Lightweight (155 lb. limit) Champion, Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (14-1), will put his coveted title on the line against number one contender and Bay Area arch-rival, Josh “The Punk” Thomson (14-2), in the main event of a Strikeforce mixed martial arts mega-card at San Jose’s HP Pavilion on Friday, June 27th.
Originally slated for March 29th, the showdown between the 155 lb. superstars was put on hold after it was learned that Thomson would have to undergo surgery for a left shoulder injury he had sustained on his way to victory over Adam Lynn at Strikeforce’s event at The Playboy Mansion on September 29, 2007.
“This is a very big fight for the fans, for the promotion and for Josh and me,” said the 26-year-old Melendez, who turned in another stellar performance in his last effort, stopping Pat Miletich protégé Gabe Lemley with a brutal ground and pound offensive in the second round of their live Showtime-televised contest at HP Pavilion on Saturday, March 29th. “Josh is a great fighter, but I’m the champ and I plan on remaining the champ for a long time.”
Unbeaten after his first nine starts, Melendez seized the Strikeforce crown from former junior collegiate wrestling standout, Clay “The Carpenter” Guida, on June 9, 2006, battering Guida with kicks and punches for five rounds before being awarded the title by way of judges’ decision.
Following his conquest of Guida, Melendez took his skills to Japan’s now-defunct Pride Fighting Championship for a pair of fights in the second half of 2006. Nobuhiro Obiya and top-ranked Tatsuya Kawajiri were his victims, respectively.
Last September, Melendez returned to Strikeforce action, taking on Japan’s Tetsuji Kato in the main event of the first mixed martial arts event in history at The Playboy Mansion. Melendez suffered a broken hand during the fight, but persevered, effectively utilizing his jab and takedown defense to earn a unanimous judges’ decision after three rounds of battle.
The 29-year-old Thomson, a former wrestling star for NCAA Division I Stanford University, has been on fire of late, winning each of his last six bouts. Only one of them, his meeting with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stud, Nam Phan, on December 8, 2006, went the distance.
“This fight with Gilbert has been a long time coming and we’re ready to do it,” said Thomson, a resident of San Jose. “It’s not as if we need a feeling out period. We both know each other very well. We’ve trained together, we’ve sparred together. We’re gonna come out ready for five rounds, but we’re gonna bang it out.”
Regarding the condition of his shoulder, Thomson is optimistic. “As we’re training, it’s getting stronger so we’re just taking it one day at a time,” he stated.
Prior to joining the ranks of Strikeforce, Thomson, a member of San Jose’s Team AKA, established a reputation for being one of the sport’s most gifted athletes. A pair of victories in The UFC, including a majority judges’ decision over Hermes Franca four years ago, and a win in Pride are amongst the feats that have helped him achieve stardom.
During “Shamrock vs. Baroni,” the first-ever Showtime PPV mixed martial arts event on June 22, 2007, Thomson reintroduced himself to a national audience, submitting Nick “The Ghost” Gonzalez with a rear naked choke at the 1:42 mark of the fight’s first round.