After Melendez (17-2) of San Francisco earned a unanimous, five-round decision and avenged a loss to Josh Thomson (16-3), of San Jose, and Brazils Jacare (11-2) and King Mo (6-0), of Carlsbad, Calif., had earlier scored first-round victories over Matt Lindland (21-7) of Oregon City, Ore., and Mike Whitehead, (24-7) of Las Vegas, respectively, Smith stormed back from the brink of defeat again to knock out the previously undefeated Le at 3:25 of the third round.
Smith (18-6), of Elk Grove, Calif., is known for dramatic victories (see: Benji Radach on April 1, 2009, at HP Pavilion and a highlight-reel win over Pete Sell on Nov. 11, 2006, to name two). But the victory over Le (6-1), of San Jose, may be impossible to top.
Southpaw Le, making his first start in 21 months, had totally dominated for two-and-one-half rounds. The fight seemed over at least a couple of times as everything was going Les way. His trademark spinning back kicks were connecting almost every time and they were knocking Smith around the cage. At one point, with Smith on the ground after getting dropped, Le seemed to throw more than 50 consecutive punches. He slammed Smith once.
But there is no quit in the courageous Smith, a proven finisher who somehow summoned the energy and heart again to twice drop Le. After he connected with two rights hands after Le was down, the referee stepped in and stopped it.
This was one helluva fight, Smith said afterward. He had me the first two-and-a-half rounds, but Ive got a hard head. On the knockdowns, I faked the right and threw the left. Everyone always looks for my right, but the left hook is my best punch.
Right now, I just want to go home and enjoy Christmas with my kids and family and friends. It never matters who I fight. I just want these types of tough fights.
Le, a former STRIKEFORCE middleweight titleholder who relinquished the belt to concentrate on an acting career, offered no excuses.
He got me with a punch, Le said. I did my best, he did his best tonight and we both fought our hearts out. This was a great fight. It was not about focus, or a lack thereof. I just got caught. It is what it is.
In a wildly exciting 25-minute, crowd-pleasing give-and-take slugfest that featured a bit of everything, Melendez outpointed Thomson by the scores of 49-46 twice and 49-47. Most everybody had rubber match on their minds when it was over.
I feel great, Melendez said. I sparred better for this fight than I did for our first, but Josh is the toughest guy Ive fought and the toughest guy around.
Said Thomson, who unanimously outpointed Melendez over five rounds on June 27, 2008, but has not fought since Sept. 20, 2008, due to injuries:
There are no excuses. It had nothing to do with the layoff. Gilbert was the better fighter tonight. Ill do whatever STRIKEFORCE wants. Im up for a third fight if thats what they want.
Jacare, a talented, non-nonsense, aggressive-minded sort, who will be an immediate threat in STRIKEFORCEs deep, talent-laden 185-pound weight class, submitted the more experienced Lindland, a 2000 Olympic Games silver medalist, with an arm triangle choke at 4:18 of the first round.
A flamboyant showman, King Mo was escorted down the aisle and into the cage for the opening bout of the telecast by six young, dancing ladies and wearing a crown on his head.
The southpaw, who seemingly is willing to fight anybody in any weight class, dropped Whitehead with a huge overhand right hand, followed with six more punches before the ref stepped in.
This was a good fight for me, but I am ready for anybody, King Mo said.