If you want to see one of the greatest fights of all time, look no further than the knock-down drag-out slobberknocker between Gilbert “El Niño” Melendez versus Diego “The Dream” Sanchez that took place on the star-studded card at UFC 166 back in October of 2013.
Diego may have been announced under the new nickname “The Dream”, but he returned to form as “The Nightmare” of old against one of the Skrap Pack’s finest. He was ferocious from start to finish.
Melendez was one of the best lightweight fighters in the world during his prime. Upon entering the octagon against Sanchez, he boasted a 21-3 record fresh off of a split-decision loss to Benson Henderson for the UFC Lightweight Championship.
A few seconds in to the first, Melendez attempted a head kick that Sanchez was able to slip and counter for the takedown. In true Diego style, he tried the work the progression of his black-belt jiu jitsu game plan right away by taking the back of “El Niño”. Gilbert walked him off and freed Sanchez’s hooks for the escape that include a crisp combo that landed head and body shots.
Both fighters interchanged positions in the octagon and exchanged strikes with Melendez landing a solid knee to the face from the clinch followed by a right that hit its mark two minutes into the round.
To be fair, Sanchez was very active and attempted a steady mix of punches, kicks, and takedowns, he just happened to be going against someone as cool as the other side of the pillow. Melendez was more precise with his striking and visibly began to slow Sanchez down. Sanchez was notorious for his relentless pace, considering he had 11 first-round finishes inside the octagon, however, the body shots he wore from Melendez had him breathing heavy and slowed his pace.
After a countered high kick from Sanchez, Melendez failed a takedown attempt but managed to cut open the brow of Sanchez with a tremendous right elbow. Sanchez had a reputation for being a “bleeder” due to his high levels of scar-tissue build up. Melendez dictated the pace for the remainder of the round, but he did get hurt by a body kick from Diego that inspired a late sprint from “The Dream” at end of the round. He withstood the sprint and nearly shut the lights out on Sanchez with a solid combination to the jaw that buckled his legs.
One thing to note right away starting the second is “El Niño’s” hand placement. The logical conclusion is the kick to the ribs hurt him, thus lowering his hands. Gilbert continued to feint at the hips to make Diego honor the kicks, but found the most success by just slugging it out in the center of the octagon.
Just past 90 seconds into the second round, there was a referee stoppage to have a doctor evaluate the cut over Sanchez’s eye. Sanchez cited he was fine other than the little bit of Vaseline that got into his eye.
Action resumed and the two lightweights got right back to battle. Both fighters exchanged and wore shots from each other, but the beauty of it all is that they both seemed to bite down on their mouth piece and throw each strike with that much more grit and determination.
Sanchez, winner of the The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 lightweight division, successfully took Melendez down but was unable to keep the fight on the ground as Melendez exploded out right away.
The chin Diego had on him was incredible. Melendez pieced him up multiple times and Sanchez kept walking through punches to land his own shots. “Sanchez is eating punches to land his own,” cage-side commentator Joe Rogan said.
The second round concluded with Diego down two rounds and pouring blood.
Sanchez started the third round with the lead uppercut he had been looking for all fight, however, Sanchez proceeded to get smashed with right hand after right hand after right hand, yet he kept coming.
In an incredible display of heart, the underdog Sanchez threw his hands up and the crowd began to chant his name.
Dubbed by Joe Rogan as one of the “greatest third round fighters” ever in the sport, Diego did not disappoint. His third round exchanges with Melendez are on savage level 100. Both fighters started swinging for the fences, and not a cheek was in a seat during that third round in Houston, Texas.
The referee briefly stopped the fight for another medical evaluation on Sanchez’s cut, but ultimately determined him capable of competing.
These two continued to beat the snot and blood out of each other, and then the unthinkable happened. Sanchez rocked Melendez with a huge punch that dropped him and Sanchez took his back attempting the rear-naked choke with 1:45 left in the third and final round. Melendez rolled out of one submission attempt and straight into another as Sanchez tried to set the hook on the guillotine choke.
Sanchez lost the hold and Melendez cleared his head to gain dominant position. With about a minute left in the fight, neutral position was re-established.
Melendez was able to get the back of Sanchez after tying up in the clinch, but Sanchez hit the switch with expert-level technique and execution to break free and return to the stand up game.
When a war like this goes to the cards, there is nothing more that I love than to see the fighters finish the bout toe-to-toe exchanging blows until the final bell sounds off. These two bad S.O.B.’s did not disappoint.
The fight was decided by unanimous decision in favor of Melendez. Sanchez won the crowd over, but Melendez clearly won the fight.
Sanchez and Melendez, like every other gladiator out there, had this one last great war in them. Both men fought the battle of a lifetime and essentially have been carried on their since. Melendez would go on to unsuccessfully challenge for the title one more time against Anthony Pettis and has not won since the Sanchez fight. Sanchez has since won in the octagon following the loss to Melendez, but has lost three of his last five fights by KO.
-Jordan Kurtz AKA Kurtzy F is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery.