A tremendous lightweight bout between top-ranked Gilbert Melendez and Al Iaquinta will co-headline UFC Fight Night 71, which takes place July 15 at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California. The UFC made the fight official Wednesday evening. Iaquinta was originally set to fight Bobby Green at the event, but after Green pulled out with an injury Melendez decided to step up — just days after he lost a razor-thing split decision to Eddie Alvarez at UFC 188. And he’ll be doing so in his backyard of California when he does so, which can only add to the motivation he has after losing to Alvarez in the Mexican altitude. This is a fantastic fight. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva showed once again that he’s the best at his job in the entire sport, as this is a fight only he could have thought of. After Green pulled out, the most obvious name out there to fill in for him was Dustin Poirier, but I actually prefer this matchup with Melendez for Iaquinta. The reason is because it doesn’t kill off a title prospect and instead we get to see if Iaquinta is actually for real, because if he can beat Melendez he’ll jump into the top 10 of the division and would be very close to getting a title shot. For Melendez, beating a guy like Iaquinta would show he still has something left in the tank because taking out Iaquinta at this point of his career would be no easy task. This is a really tough fight to call. We’ve seen Iaquinta have some weakness on the ground in the submission department, but in his recent batch of fights he has fought really smart. He knows he has problems with MMA grappling, so instead he’s decided to use his wrestling in reverse, keeps his fights standing and torch his opponents on the feet. He’s looked absolutely fantastic during his most recent win streak and if he beats Melendez, it’s possible this could be the future UFC lightweight champion. As for odds, this is tough. Melendez will probably be the favorite like he usually is, but only slightly. Iaquinta deserves a ton of respect after his last few outings and although he was plus money against Jorge Masvidal, it’s hard to imagine him being more than +115 or so here — this is a close fight.
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