Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look at the co-main event of UFC on Fox 20 in Chicago, Illinois as Edson Barboza faces former Strikeforce Champion Gilbert Melendez. Edson Barboza (Record: 17-4, -210 Favorite, Fighter Grade: B+) The Brazilian born, New Jersey-trained fighter is coming off the best win of his career over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. In addition to a purple belt in BJJ, he holds black belts in muay thai and taekwondo. The highly skilled striker had fought professionally in muay thai prior to picking up MMA. Barboza is a ruthless striker with perhaps the best leg kicks in the sports. He’s finished opponents multiple times simply by chopping down their legs until they couldn’t fight anymore. He combines that with good power in his hands as well as fantastic knockout power in his head kicks. Barboza’s takedown defense is excellent at 84% forcing his opponent’s to beat him on the feet. In order to have success against Barboza, an opponent needs to put pressure on Barboza and not allow him space to land his heavy leg strikes. Cutting off the cage a key component in thwarting Barboza’s game plan. Gilbert Melendez (Record: 22-5, +160 Underdog, Fighter Grade: B+) The Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu product has been fighting professionally for nearly 15 years. The former Strikeforce champion with wins over Clay Guida, Jorge Masvidal, and Josh Thomson has lost three of his four fights in the UFC. Two of those four losses have come by split decision. Melendez enters this matchup on the back of the first losing streak of his career. Introduced to the sport by friend and longtime MMA fighter Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez is a long time veteran of the sport having fought professionally since 2002. Melendez quite simply has a well-rounded game that is heavily reliant on a pressure style. He does his best work pushing the pace of fights putting his opponents against the cage and working in takedowns to control rounds. Melendez lands at a decent clip on the feet at 3.64 significant strikes per minute, but does even better to avoid strikes absorbing just 2.11 strikes per minute. Melendez secures nearly two takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon. He’s certainly not a finisher with just one win inside the distance this decade. Melendez is a guy who has to out work opponents and earn decisions. He’s certainly made a long and successful career in doing just that. Match-up This is an important match-up in the lightweight division as Edson Barboza looks to take another step towards receiving his first lightweight title shot as he faces former UFC title challenger Gilbert Melendez. Melendez will really need to work to get inside of Barboza’s striking game. Barboza is one of the best in the sport at striking from range. His leg kicks are ferocious and he can certainly finish with a headkick strike. Look for this to be very similar to the Barboza’s fight with Anthony Pettis where he’s able to control his opponent from the outside and out land him throughout the 15 minute fight. Melendez will need to work in takedowns to win this fight, but Barboza’s 84% takedown defense is one of the best in the division. Barboza has the bigger weapons in this fight combined with a high striker volume, he should be able to do enough to get his hand raised in this bout. I handicap Barboza a -180 favorite in this bout, so will need the line to fall a bit more before the price will reach a point where a bet can be considered.
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