- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Gilbert Melendez proved he is one of the top lightweight martial artists on the planet -- but he's not the best.
That distinction belongs to Benson Henderson.
Henderson (19-2) defended the UFC lightweight title for the third time on Saturday, defeating Melendez via split decision inside the HP Pavilion. The win ties Henderson with BJ Penn for most wins in a UFC lightweight title fight with four.
The San Jose crowd was not happy with the decision, as the fight was razor close. Two judges awarded the contest 48-47 to Henderson, while the third gave it to Melendez by the same score. ESPN.com scored the bout 48-47 for Henderson.
It was Melendez's debut in the UFC and 10th consecutive title bout. He held the Strikeforce 155-pound title from 2009 to 2013, successfully defending it four times.
"Tough fight," Henderson said. "We all know, all the guys here, know how tough Gilbert Melendez is. Hats off to Gil."
After the win, Henderson proposed to his girlfriend in the Octagon. She said yes.
"There's a lot bigger things than fighting," Henderson said. "I had to take care of one of those things right now."
Melendez (21-3) didn't budge an inch the entire fight. He caught multiple kick attempts from Henderson, but couldn't quite capitalize on the opportunities they provided.
He was accurate with leg kicks of his own and his head movement was excellent. He slipped under Henderson's jabs and landed several hard left hooks and right crosses. Every round was close, with the possible exception of the fifth, where Melendez pressured Henderson and landed multiple combinations to the body.
Versatility won Henderson the fight. He landed good knees to Melendez's midsection, coming in with strikes and opening a cut over one of Melendez's eyes with an elbow in the second round.
The fact that Melendez caught a decent percentage of his kicks did not stop Henderson from throwing them at will. He spun Melendez completely around with a hard right leg kick in the third. One thing Henderson couldn't do was take the fight to the ground consistently, as Melendez showcased terrific takedown defense and the ability to match Henderson in the scramble.
In the fourth round, the two lightweights threw kicks simultaneously, resulting in Melendez losing his balance and going to the ground. It appeared Henderson had an opportunity to take his back, but Melendez threw him off immediately.
Both fighters raised their arms in celebration after the fight. The win improves Henderson's UFC record to 7-0. All seven wins have come via decision. He was involved in another controversial split decision over Frankie Edgar last August.
Melendez had his seven-fight win streak snapped.
Cormier neutralizes Mir
Cormier (12-0) made his UFC debut a successful one, defeating Mir via unanimous decision in the night's co-main event. While he never was particularly close to a stoppage, Cormier was relatively in control throughout the heavyweight contest.
Neither fighter appeared happy at the conclusion of the fight. It was a slow, wearing affair, featuring long clinches with Mir pinned along the fence. All three judges scored it a clean sweep for Cormier, 30-27.
"I'm not happy with my performance," Cormier said. "I was nervous and I can't explain why. It must've been this big fight feel. I didn't fight how I wanted. I controlled the fight and I thought I landed some good punches. At the end of the day, I stay undefeated and move forward."
Mir (17-6) had some success when Cormier afforded him breathing room. He threw a ton of kicks up the middle, but had no answer for Cormier's wrestling credentials. Any time Cormier wanted to take the fight to the cage, he did.
The San Jose crowd booed the long clinches, but Cormier stayed active enough to prevent referee Herb Dean from consistently breaking up the action. He did so just twice, once in the second round and again in the third.
Cormier racked up points on the scorecards with good bodywork. He peppered Mir's midsection with body punches and weakened his legs with heavy knees to the thighs. He ripped off several hard uppercuts in the final round.
Mir had one opportunity to use his grappling, albeit a very brief one. After Cormier slipped on a high head kick in the first round, Mir looked for a guillotine in the scramble but was quickly thrown off.
It was clear Cormier had no interest in taking the fight to the ground at any point and Mir, knowing he was up against an Olympic wrestler, didn't attempt a single takedown.
Mir, 33, suffered his second consecutive defeat. He was knocked out in the second round of a heavyweight title fight against Junior Dos Santos last May. Cormier added another veteran name to his resume, which also includes Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva.
Thomson stomps all over Diaz
Middle fingers and trash talk seemed to only have a positive impact on Josh Thomson.
Returning to the UFC for the first time since 2004, Thomson (20-5) gave nothing short of a brilliant performance, defeating Nate Diaz in a second round via TKO. It's the first time Diaz has been knocked out in his near nine-year career.
"I couldn't have scripted it any better," Thomson said. "I doubted myself a little bit. I thought he posed a lot of problems for me from his ground to his reach. My whole game plan was to pick him apart and take what he gives me. I think I deserve a shot at the title, but it's hard for me to say.
A high right head kick by Thomson was the beginning of the end of the lightweight fight. Diaz (16-9) never went unconscious but he clearly was hurt. His corner even threw in the towel just as referee Mike Beltran waved off the fight.
Thomson executed his game plan near flawlessly. He attacked Diaz's lead leg with kicks early and circled away from his opponent's notoriously active jab.
Diaz became frustrated less than midway through the first round, dropping his hands and mocking Thomson. When he tried to turn up the pace and cut off the ring, Thomson would get him to over-reach, then land counter strikes.
In the second round, Thomson opened cuts under Diaz's right eye with elbows from the clinch. Diaz managed to get a takedown in the round, but Thomson quickly worked back to feet.
A former title holder in Strikeforce, Thomson suffered a controversial split decision loss to Diaz's teammate, Gilbert Melendez, in his final Strikeforce fight. He holds notable wins over Pat Healy, Melendez and Duane Ludwig.
Diaz suffered back-to-back losses for the third time in his career. The 28-year-old said he likely would move to welterweight following the Thomson fight, regardless of the outcome.
Brown delivers again
People might want to stop underestimating Matt Brown.
The UFC welterweight ran through heavily touted prospect Jordan Mein in a second-round TKO win. Brown (17-11) entered the fight close to a 3-to-1 betting underdog, but nevertheless cruised to the finish at the 1-minute mark.
"I think Jordan's hype was well-deserved," Brown said. "He hurt me really bad with that body shot. I was really close to being incapacitated and unable to defend myself. I have no idea who I want next, but I think I deserve a fight that would put me in title contention."
Brown turned it into exactly the fight he wanted, pressuring Mein from bell-to-bell in the opening round. He caught Mein (27-9) with a left hook early, which sent the 23-year-old into early survival mode.
Mein tried to circle away, but Brown smelled blood and swarmed him from one side of the Octagon to the other with left hooks to the chin and body. Mein showed heart though, answering Brown's aggression with a left hook of his own along the fence.
After Brown stepped back from the shot, Mein followed with an uppercut that dropped Brown in the center of the cage. Mein got on top and started throwing punches, but Brown caught him in a deep triangle that nearly finished the fight.
The pace of the first round had a clear effect on Mein. Brown pressured him again in the second, hitting him with knees from the Thai clinch and nearly locking in a guillotine. Mein eventually could only turtle along the fence, where Brown landed a few hard elbows to the body to persuade referee John McCarthy to stop the fight.
Mendes closes in on second title shot
Chad Mendes looks just about ready for another shot at the title.
The featherweight contender earned his third consecutive first-round finish, stopping Darren Elkins via TKO at 1:08 of the opening frame. Mendes (14-1) has knocked out every opponent he's fought since losing to Jose Aldo in January 2012.
"It was a quick finish and if I could do that every time, I would," Mendes said. "Overall, I got in there and felt great. After the Aldo fight, I really worked on my standup. I'm just starting to find myself in the standup world."
The fight was pretty much over before it ever got started. A measured straight right by Mendes had Elkins (16-3) on ice skates early.
As he tried to recover, Mendes gave chase and planted another big overhand right. Elkins slumped to his knees along the fence and referee Herb Dean saved him before he even fell completely to the floor.
Elkins has lost only three fights in six years, but all have come via first-round stoppage. Mendes records the seventh finish of his professional career.
Carmont lumbers past Larkin
Francis Carmont won. Few could describe exactly how he did it.
Carmont (21-7) ran his win streak to 10 with a unanimous decision over Lorenz Larkin in a very slow fight. It was a difficult bout to score, as neither middleweight provided much offense during any round.
Even so, all three judges scored it 29-28 for Carmont. ESPN.com had it 29-28 Larkin.
"He's a tough guy and he's hard to push around," Carmon said. "He's a great fighter. He didn't hurt me at all and he didn't take me down easily. I'm just happy to win the fight."
Carmont looked comfortable early, switching his stance and stalking Larkin around the cage. He failed to pull the trigger much, though, and despite getting high on a single leg attempt, had trouble taking Larkin to the ground.
Larkin (13-1) did most of his work with leg kicks. He caught Carmont with a single, counter left hook in the second round that landed clean, but didn't really daze Carmont. He appeared to be a little tired in the third round.
An early single leg attempt by Carmont was successful in the final round, but he landed no significant strikes from top position. Larkin eventually worked a kimura sweep and got back to his feet for the final minute, where once again, neither managed any offense.
Carmont, who trains out of Tristar Gym with welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC. Larkin suffers his first official loss. A knockout loss to Muhammed Lawal in January 2012 was eventually changed to a no-contest.
Jury puts away Nijem
In terms of the best knockout of his career, Myles Jury just set the bar very high.
Jury (12-0) detonated a counter right hand on the chin of Ramsey Nijem, scoring a clean knockout win at 1:02 of the second round. Jury got in a follow up right before referee John McCarthy could intervene, but Nijem was well out before the shot.
The win keeps Jury's unblemished record intact. He improves to 3-0 in the UFC.
"I've never finished anyone quite like that," Jury said. "I was lost in the moment and when you see them fall down, you just go in there to finish. Honestly, it just feels like hitting mitts. I didn't force anything, it's all just technique."
The explosive knockout followed a very different first round, which basically turned into a five-minute grappling match. Jury caught an early body kick from Nijem (7-3) and tripped him to the floor, where they would spend the remainder of the round.
Jury threatened with an armbar attempt at one point, but both lightweights had trouble securing dominant position. Nijem would sweep to the top, only to lose a scramble and give up his back -- only to scramble again and take Jury's back.
The second round opened with an accidental eyepoke by Jury. Once the action resumed, Nijem came forward with a two-punch combination. Jury stepped back, slipped Nijem's punches and landed the perfect right hand.
Nijem suffers the second knockout loss of his career. He fell to Tony Ferguson in the first round of their fight in the "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 13 finals.
Benavidez KOs Uyenoyama
Joseph Benavidez likes to eat like a heavyweight between fights. Sometimes, he punches like one, too.
Arguably the greatest threat to Demetrious Johnson's 125-pound title, Benavidez (18-3) just fought a mean fight against Darren Uyenoyama. He battered Uyenoyama over two rounds before a left hook to the body ended it at 4:50 of the second.
"I felt good everywhere," Benavidez said. "I look for the body shots because they work and they hurt. When you wake up in the morning after a knockout you don't feel anything, but after a body shot, you're definitely feeling it."
Uyenoyama (8-4) had no room to breathe throughout the near 10-minute fight. Benavidez claimed the center of the cage and never gave it back. He stalked Uyenoyama in a manner typically saved for the heavier divisions.
The overhand right was a major weapon for Benavidez. He strung together combinations on the move and typically finished with the right hand or body kick. Uyenoyama managed to open a cut near Benavidez's right eye during an exchange in the first round, but it had no effect on his pressure game plan.
The final sequence began with a busted takedown attempt by Uyenoyama. Benavidez ended up on top, then caught Uyenoyama with a body kick as soon as he wrestled to his feet. Shortly after, the left hook met the liver and it was over.
Benavidez is now 3-1 in the UFC's flyweight division. His only loss came via split decision to Johnson in the promotion's inaugural 125-pound title fight. Uyenoyama sees a three-fight win streak snapped.
Masvidal scores his first victory in the UFC
It wasn't the prettiest of debuts, but Jorge Masvidal is 1-0 in the UFC.
A longtime Strikeforce lightweight, Masvidal (24-7) earned a unanimous decision over Tim Means in his first trip to the Octagon. Masvidal was in control throughout most of the three-round contest, but was far from dominant.
All three judges scored it the same, 29-28 for Masvidal.
"I was just kind of out of it before this fight, but I woke up once I got in there," Masvidal said. "I was on top all three rounds, so I didn't think I'd lose any rounds.
"I didn't perform how I should've but each fight I'll be able to improve my performance and ability dramatically. I want any Top 10 guys as soon as possible."
Known best as a striker, it was Masvidal's wrestling that was the difference. Both lightweights got off to a bit of a slow start. Means (18-4-1) looked to primarily set up his straight left while Masvidal worked his counter striking.
Masvidal scored key takedowns in all three rounds. His best work came in the second, as he neutralized Means' guard and landed short punches and elbows.
Means proved to be a problem off his back, though. He was extremely active from his guard, catching Masvidal with an upkick and even cut him on the top of the head with an elbow. He swept Masvidal in the final 20 seconds and finished the fight throwing punches from top position.
Masvidal, who fought for the Strikeforce title in December 2011, has now won four of his last five bouts. All four victories came via decision. Means, who hadn't fought since last June, sees a nine-fight win streak snapped.
Dillashaw stops Viana in Round 1
Dillashaw (8-1) extended his bantamweight win streak to four with a first-round TKO over the previously undefeated Viana. Referee John McCarthy waved it off at the 4:22 mark.
It was a comeback win of sorts, as Viana (7-1) hurt Dillashaw early with a counter left hook. Dillashaw started bleeding from the bridge of his nose immediately, but he recouped quickly, taking Viana's back following a successful takedown.
"I felt good and calm, just tried to keep my movement going," Dillashaw said. "I knew I had a fast opponent. I knew Hugo was tough. I just tried to keep it fast-paced."
After Viana managed to get back to his feet, Dillashaw went to work with the jab, and several head kicks from the left side. He got Viana's attention with the kick, and then followed with a straight right up the middle.
Staggered, Viana tried to circle away but never recovered from the right hand. Dillashaw tracked him down against the fence and knocked him down with a hard left hook. The finish came shortly after.
Dillashaw improves his UFC record to 4-1. His only loss came in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter season 14, to now-flyweight John Dodson. Viana drops to 2-1 in the Octagon.
Benson Henderson earned a rugged, split decision over Gilbert Melendez -- then proposed to his girlfriend -- in the UFC on Fox 7 main event Saturday.