On April 20th, UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson will make his 3rd title defense against former Strikeforce belt holder Gilbert Melendez, which is set to take place at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.
Looking back at Henderson’s latest title defense against Nate Diaz, the way he was able to dominate the Stockton fighter came as a surprise for most bettors. Despite the champion closing as only a -200 betting odds favorite, Henderson swept all 5 rounds while dropping Diaz with a punch in the 3rd round and effortlessly controlling the grappling exchanges throughout
Conversely, while Henderson is coming off his most impressive tittle defense to date, the exact opposite was the case in Melendez’s last title defense against Josh Thomson.
Gilbert closed at over -500 in that fight yet barely squeaked by with a split decision on the scorecards, arguably getting outworked and out struck in the final 3 rounds of the match. However, heading into the match, it became quite apparent that motivation and nagging injuries played a clear part in such a lackluster performance by the champion.
Champion vs. Champion Prediction
Keeping their latest two performances in mind, Henderson is coming into this fight with all the favorable fanfare while Melendez’s last outing has many fans questioning just how overrated he may have been as a Strikeforce champion over the last 3 years.
That type of general perspective from the casual fan hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Oddsmakers, who in my opinion have inflated the line (-220 on Henderson) based off how much more favorably fans are viewing Benson’s recent destruction of Nate Diaz.
For example, if this fight had been made immediately after Henderson’s two close decisions with Edgar, we’d likely be looking at a much closer line here against Melendez- possibly even a pick-em for our UFC Picks.
Personally, I think fair value in the match-up should be a little closer to -155 on Henderson, as Melendez clearly has the required skillset to push the champion in all facets of the game.
First off, Melendez is at nowhere near the massive deficits in both physical strength and wrestling ability that his training partner Nate Diaz had to overcome back in December.
In fact, there’s a small argument to be made that Melendez may actually have a small edge as the better defensive wrestler of the two-- Clay Guida was able to hold his own in the vast majority of his grappling exchanges with the champion, so I see no reason that Gilbert couldn’t match and possibly even surpass that same success.
He may not me the superior striker overall, but he does have the better handspeed, combination ability and accuracy with his power shots. Whether or not that’s enough to overcome the brutal kicking power and superior range of Henderson, however, remains to be seen.
When predicting how the betting line will move from here, I think the more likely scenario is money continuing to pour in on the champion until he reaches -265. So my advice would be to wait that movement out and see if we can snag Gilbert at +200 or better after the weigh-ins. I expect nothing less than a close decision that could very well be decided by whoever’s the better conditioned athlete in the championship rounds.
UFC Picks: Gilbert Melendez +185 at sportbet.com