SAN JOSE — He thought he had done enough, and so did the 13,500 backers who vehemently booed the final verdict.
Gilbert Melendez, the adopted San Franciscan whose long awaited shot at Benson Henderson’s UFC lightweight championship was self admittedly the culmination of an 11-year career, lost Saturday night.
But not by much.
After five intensely contested rounds, Melendez was on the losing end of a split decision at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. Two judges scored it 48-47 for the champion, while one had it 48-47 for Melendez.
“I thought I won the first two and fifth, for sure,” Melendez said. “I took my foot off the gas a little after the second. … and I thought it was going to come down to the last rounds, and I thought I won the last round.
“Ben’s a stud,” he continued. “What can I say.”
In short, the judges preferred Henderson’s cleaner strikes to Melendez’s pressure. And cleaner strikes are usually considered more damaging.
The opening round started with the southpaw Henderson landing a straight left hand flush on Melendez’s chin. The blow forced the challenger to take a few staggered steps back. But by the end of the round, Melendez had tallied a couple of takedowns, seemingly swaying the round in his favor.
The second was less definite than the first. While Melendez charged forward, Henderson sidestepped and landed his share of elbows and knees.
The proceeding two rounds saw Henderson dominate with his vaunted leg kicks, dropping the challenger twice. And Melendez’s own attempted strikes reached Henderson less and less.
The fifth and final stanza was among the most debated.
Melendez chased and Henderson slid away. Melendez threw more, but Henderson landed cleaner.
“I knew it was close,” Henderson said. “I thought that perhaps I had lost the first round. I knew in the back of my mind I won the next four, but I knew it was going to be close. I didn’t think it was going to be a split, but it is what it is.”
He probably didn’t think the boos were going to drown out his voice on the loudspeakers as he bent down on one knee to propose to his fiancé. But they did.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked if he would’ve still proposed if he’d lost the decision. “That wouldn’t be the best look.”
But the more difficult question had to do on the subject of a rematch.
“Do I imagine I’ll be seeing Gil again? Yeah. I’ll be seeing Gil again,” Henderson said. “He’s gonna want to kick the crap out of me.”
But it won’t happen next.
The curt boss of the UFC, Dana White, said that the winner of Gray Maynard and T.J. Grant —ranked No. 3 and No.7, respectively — at UFC 160 on May 25 will get a crack at Henderson next.
So Gil will have to wait. Again.
“Just heartbroken,” Melendez said of the loss. “That’s about it.”
In the co-main event, San Jose’s Daniel Cormier remained unbeaten by pounding out a unanimous decision win over Frank Mir, besting the former heavyweight champ over three lumbering rounds.
Cormier repeatedly pinned Mir against the cage, slashing to the ribcage with hooks and knees, and occasional strikes upstairs. It was an intelligent move, if not an entertaining one, for the lengthier Mir had no room to breathe. All three judges had the identical tally of 30-27 for Cormier.
In another bout that paired two top lightweight contenders, San Jose native Josh Thomson dominated Nate Diaz, stopping the Stockton fighter in the second round while earning the “knockout of the night” and the $50,000 cash prize.
“I didn’t see it going this way at all, to be honest,” Thomson said. “I played it in my head over 100 times, and honestly … probably 50 of those times I lost.
“You’ve got to be prepared for every scenario. I just had to make sure I fought a good fight. And I just picked him apart.”
A right shin from Thomson to Diaz’s head rendered the Stockton fighter wounded. The blow forced Diaz into retreat, and Thomson pounced with a series of straight right hands that sent Diaz crashing to the canvas, bloody face first.
It was over soon after that. As Thomson rained down a series of heavy blows, a white towel came sailing from Diaz’ corner. The referee never saw the towel fly, but put an end to the beating anyway.