EDMONTON, Alberta -- Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez came down to the featherweight division on Saturday night.
There, he was greeted by a fighter with bad intentions.
Jeremy Stephens worked Melendez over for the better part of their UFC 215 matchup at Rogers Place. Stephens was crisp with his boxing and ruthlessly efficient with kicks to Melendez’s left leg. The always-tough Melendez made it to the final horn before losing via unanimous decision on scores of 30-26, 30-26, and 30-25.
While the fight promised fireworks on paper, it became clear early Stephens was the sharper of the two. He landed combos to the head and body and most importantly, started scoring with low kicks to Melendez’s left leg.
Several times over the course of the first two rounds, those leg kicks dropped Melendez to the mat. And while it appeared the fight might be over each time he crumpled to the mat, Melendez composed himself and get back in the game, much to the approval of the crowd.
By the final round, Melendez’s leg was bright red, but it was all he could to get to the the horn. Stephens didn’t do anything reckless, knowing he was leading on the scorecards. Another kick felled Melendez, and he rolled right back to his feet, earning a high-five and applause from Stephens himself.
Stephens snapped a two-fight losing streak and improved to 26-14. Melendez (22-7) has now lost four straight fights and five of his past six.
Stephens, who postponed his wedding to accept the fight, says he’s simply evolved better than his opponent.
“Gilbert Melendez is one of the toughest guys of all-time,” Stephens said. “But I don’t think he’s evolved. ... I keep [expletive] coming, that’s what we do.”