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Strikeforce Main Event Breakdown: Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal

During a recent interview with the press, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez voiced his displeasure with some of the people who discounted his next challenger, Jorge Masvidal.

"A lot of people have been talking nonsense; that Jorge, like he's no good. That you're going to run by him," Melendez said. "And that talk kind of bothers me because some people are ignorant. They don't really follow the game that much. If you don't fight in the UFC, they think you're no good."

Like most fighters, Melendez is much more attuned to the subtleties of an opponents' fight style and skills than most observers, and he understands he's truly in for a fight in Saturday night's Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal main event. And he probably understands he's in a no-win situation as well.

If he does emerge victorious, that's exactly what he was supposed to do, and if he loses, detractors will say his consensus No. 2 lightweight ranking was never quite deserved.

Masvidal (22-6) is a crafty fighter with a style Melendez hasn't really experienced in the cage. He keys his offense off a long jab that lengthens his reach and moves his opponent backward, an important strategy that plays into his preference for counter-fighting. Overall, though, he's a very complete fighter.

Despite having no real base in wrestling, he's proven his excellence in that department through the most recent part of his career. For example, his last fight was against KJ Noons, who loves to strike and uses his wrestling to keep the fight upright where he thinks he has an advantage. That has largely been a successful strategy for him. According to FightMetric, Noons has successfully defended 71 percent of takedown tries against him, but Masvidal took him down on seven of nine attempts en route to a dominant win.

So that's one thing for Melendez (19-2) to be concerned about. The other is Masvidal's striking. As mentioned, Noons has a reputation as a striker but Masvidal had a field day against him on the feet, knocking him down once and out-landing him 73-38 in signature strikes. That's a fairly common outcome for Masvidal, who has one pro boxing fight under his belt and prides himself on his offensive skills and defensive movement.

Masvidal lands about 50 percent of his strikes while his opponents land less than 30, according to FightMetric. In addition to his jab as a favored weapon, he is one of few fighters who takes advantage of criminally underused body punching, occasionally firing off left hook liver shots. His easy motion and comfort level in his standup often lull his opponents into a false confidence, and then he can use his speed to strike or shoot in for the takedown. But other times, he himself might slow things down, too. That's good in some matchups, but it's not the best idea for this one.

Melendez's style is much more well known than Masvidal's. Melendez has refined his boxing over the last few years, adding power along the way (four of his last six wins are by KO or TKO). Coupled with an effective wrestling game and ability to create a grinding match, he often forces opponents into a fight that favors his skills. Melendez is also one of those fighters who can take his foe's best weapon away and turn the bout into his favor that way.

But really, Melendez's most important single trait is his conditioning, a quality that allows him to push the fight in any direction he wants with little fear of running out of gas. Particularly in five-round bouts, many fighters will pace themselves early, aware that they might need reserve fuel in case they still find themselves fighting 20 minutes or so later. Melendez doesn't have to think about that.

He's also trained for five-round title fights multiple times. This will be his seventh straight time preparing for the 25-minute distance, while Masvidal is doing it for the first time.

From a pure skill level, Masvidal is certainly capable of the upset, but it's hard to overlook some of his past uneven performances. In a fight against Paul Daley that took place in Sept. 2010, for example, the win was there for the taking in round three after the two split the first two rounds, and Masvidal never showed a sense of urgency to seal the deal, allowing Daley to steal it on the scorecards. Given Melendez's aggression, any kind of passivity may be Melendez's undoing.

Masvidal has to be more offensive than usual and push forward, but that's not really not his style, and it's not likely he'll change that overnight. If he sits backs and waits to counter, Melendez's more straightforward style will make a bigger impact with the judges. Masvidal has the chin and boxing skills to bring this fight into the late rounds, but Melendez's stamina will be the edge to get him to the finish line first. Expect this one to be closer than the wide odds indicate, but Melendez holds on to the belt with a decision win.