“When Kawajiri is on his game, finding a way to beat him is about as hard as finding a pubic hair at a Justin Beiber concert,” said commentator Michael Schiavello, regarding Tatsuya Kawajiri’s complete domination of Josh Thompson at ‘Dynamite!!’ this past New Year’s Eve.

Kawajiri is a monster of a fighter at lightweight; a large grappler with excellent composure and ring-savvy who brings a unique brand of ground control and slick guard passes to the mat, coupled with peppering, rapid ground and pound that leaves his opponents frustrated and in a “survival” mindset. Though Thompson is a well-regarded all-around fighter with great resilience, endurance and balance, he was constantly lost and on the defensive in their bout. In Thompson’s 4 losses, he has never looked as helpless as he did in conceding a unanimous decision victory to “The Crusher”, Kawajiri.

Gilbert Melendez holds a win over both Kawajiri and Thompson, and is Strikeforce’s Lightweight champion. Universally regarded as the number two Lightweight in the world, if not the number one Lightweight, Melendez is a young fighter with a jaw-dropping resume and an ever improving game. His razor-thin 2006 win over Kawajiri was Melendez’s first sign of great things to come, and the Cesar Gracie protégé has recently avenged his only two losses: a 2008 5-round decision to Thompson and a 2007 decision to Mitsuhiro Ishida. The most glaring glimpse of greatness from Melendez was his last fight, in which he utterly shut down Shinya Aoki. Aoki himself is synonymous with “domination”, a phenomenal grappler who runs through opponents and forces them into submission with wild chokes and limb-locks; Kawajiri being one of those people submitted. Melendez’s fight with Aoki was as one-sided as they come, as Gilbert showcased his striking and takedown defense, forcing Aoki to do little more than lay on his back and butt-scoot for the duration of the bout. It was an emphatic performance, placing Melendez’s name amongst elite lightweight colleagues Frankie Edgar and Eddie Alvarez.

Kawajiri’s fault is not his ability, but his consistency. His loss to Aoki was a very winnable fight, which could have been a solid notch on Kawajiri’s belt had he been a tad more aggressive and not as willing to play Aoki’s game. This has been a staple in Kawajiri’s shortcomings, though it has been to top competition. If he can keep his composure as he did in the Thompson fight, and come forward intelligently, there is no reason he cannot stifle Melendez and negate his speed and tenacity.

That speed and tenacity is something that no one has been able to go more than .500 against, though. Melendez’s game is getting sharp on all levels, and with his physical attributes, it can be more than overwhelming. His kickboxing has gone from stoic and forced to smooth and effective; such rapid improvement is hard to prepare for, and with a year’s layoff there is no telling where Melendez is at currently.

This boils down to whether or not Kawajiri is able to impose himself. That’s not indicative of him being the favorite, nor hypothetically the better fighter, but just the style each fighter brings. Kawajiri is going to push forward, look to clinch and work his magic on the ground. Melendez is more than likely going to look to strike and change levels from time to time. Both are going to try to break one another, and it will be a mental battle more than anything.

Tune in to Strikeforce on Showtime April 9th, to see two of the greatest Lightweights in the world once again face each other in what will undoubtedly be career-defining performances from both.

Picture Courtsy of Strikeforce.com

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