SAN JOSE, Calif. --
Though Thomson (16-3) dominated the first contest -- a title-seizing unanimous decision awarded for his impeccable timing, ring generalship and proper counter-fighting -- he was unable to measure the former champion in the rematch. Instead, Thomson took part in one half of a war that rendered furious exchanges, knockdowns and wild sequences.
"The first fight he kept coming and we kept countering, so there was always active movement," Thomson said. "But this fight, the pace was a little bit slower but when we did throw it was hard. It was stand toe-to-toe, go hard and someone was getting hit. To be honest, it was one of those things were we just enjoyed the moment."
Melendez, too, said compared to their first go, the pace was slower and more controlled. However most observers, including many in press row, disagree with their assessment. Each round, save the third, resulted in dangerous moments as Melendez (17-2) fared better in most of the exchanges.
"He delivered what he had to do to beat me tonight," Thomson said of the 27-year-old Melendez, his old friend and former training partner. "That's the bottom line."
From the outset Melendez did what he couldn't the first time encountering Thomson: assert himself. Round 2 was where action picked up. Controlling the first four minutes of the round, momentum turned for Melendez when Thomson connected on a left hook that stunned the challenger with 60 seconds remaining on the clock. Refusing to fight from his back, Melendez recovered, swapped positions and fired away until the bell tolled.
Following the slower third, action picked up in the championship rounds. Thomson finished a rare takedown in the fourth, but it wasn't worth much as Melendez again sprung to his feet and unfurled punches, including a head shot that knocked the wind out of Thomson and caused his entire body to "start vibrating."
"Standup was working for me," Melendez said. "My timing was good. I felt comfortable there. It's dangerous because I got hit a couple times. It was a war."
Indeed it was, particularly in the fifth when Thomson, down big on the cards, attacked early. Heavy salvos marked the beginning and end of the period, which saw both men strike to the bell.
In addition to the Strikeforce lightweight title, a shot at No. 2-ranked
On a rubber match, both men shook their heads and laughed at the prospect, knowing full well it will likely happen sometime in the coming year -- and another five-rounder seems certain.
"I'm cool with calling it even if he wants to," Melendez joked.
Headlining the effort in San Jose, local favorite
"I knew I needed to finish him to win," said Smith, who improved to 17-6 with his second Hail Mary victory of the year. "Definitely a sense of urgency. I felt him slowing down, but of course I was slowing down a little bit too."
Smith stalked, closing the distance to stifle Le's long-range kicks, and connected with a left hook to the chin. He swarmed, landing another left hook before a right straight short-circuited Le's ability to stand.
"I think I definitely need to change my strategy a little bit, maybe get beat up in the corner before I go in to fight," Smith joked. "I need to get beat up and get mad and have a sense of urgency to do good. I can't remember the last time I won the first round in a fight."
The powerful Lawal (now 6-0), an All-American wrestler in 2003 at Oklahoma State, walked into his heavyweight bout against veteran
"Jacare," (11-2) one of the top submission grapplers in the world, dominated veteran middleweight and former U.S. Olympian