Gilbert Melendez was in the main event Saturday night. He was not at center stage.
The lightweight known as "El Niño" successfully defended his Strikeforce championship with a clear, if not dominant unanimous decision victory over Jorge Masvidal in the feature fight of a two-title-bout card in San Diego. And it's safe to say it was not what he wanted to be doing or where he wanted to be doing it.
Melendez (20-2) was in full control for the entire 25 minutes of fighting, but he wasn't in there with Frankie Edgar, as he's been pining to be, or even with any of the murderer's row of challengers lined up to face the UFC champ. Despite the fact that Gil has been talking UFC pretty much from the moment that fight organization's parent company bought Strikeforce back in March, and despite the fact that his two top training partners on the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu team, Nick Diaz and Jake Shields, have made the jump to Dana White's outfit, Melendez was back in a Strikeforce scrap, this time pitted against a guy who built his name as a fighter by taking out one of Kimbo Slice's protégés in a Miami street fight.
Masvidal (22-7) did redden the champ's face and puff up the area around his right eye with a steady diet of jabs. But while he put up a fight, Jorge was mostly unable to draw Melendez into one. On several occasions, he dropped his hands and stuck out his chin in an effort to bait Gil into an exchange. It didn't work. Melendez trains with the Diaz brothers, who probably try that on him every day in the gym. He wasn't about to let Masvidal dictate the terms of their engagement.
"I beat him at his own game," said Melendez. "I think I'm better than a decent striker." That last part was a response to Masvidal's pre-fight comments suggesting that the champ wouldn't dare stand with him.
But Melendez did stand ... and did land. He connected with 134 punches and 10 kicks, with 94 of them being power strikes. That latter number was more than Masvidal's punch total. Jorge put some solid leather on Gil, but while the challenger was able to land punches, the champion was landing combinations.
"I had to do what I had to do," said Melendez. "Jorge's not the easiest matchup, especially stylistically for me."
That might be so, but the matchups don't get any easier in the UFC.
Speaking of easy matchups, how about that other Strikeforce title bout? Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos hadn't fought in 18 months, but the Brazilian's return to work lasted just 16 seconds as she defended her women's 145-pound title with a TKO of overmatched, overwhelmed Hiroko Yamanaka.
Santos (11-1) had her fifth straight Strikeforce KO essentially sewed up even before the bout began. She paced back and forth during the introductions as if waiting for her prey to appear. And across the cage, Yamanaka (12-2 and winner of eight straight coming in) looked like a lamb being led to slaughter. Which she was.
At least it was quick. "Cyborg" dropped the tall Japanese fighter with a short right cross three seconds into the fight and followed her to the mat to connect with a few more hard shots. Yamanaka managed to get to her feet, and it turned out to be her undoing, as Santos swarmed in, landed a right, a left and another right, then missed with a left before smashing her with a right that put the challenger on the mat. The referee jumped in mercifully before the damage was too severe.
The enduring damage was to the collective psyche of all the other fighters in women's MMA. Who'll they get to fight Cyborg next?