Scott Smith rallies from brink of defeat – again – to shock Cung Le; Gilbert Melendez regains Strikeforce title with win over Josh Thomson

Photo by Esther Lin / Strikeforce - Cung Le landing one of his many kicks

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Dec. 20, 2009) – No stranger to stirring comeback victories, Scott “Hands Of Steel” Smith rallied to knock out Cung Le, Gilbert Melendez regained the STRIKEFORCE lightweight world title in perhaps the Fight of the Year, and STRIKEFORCE newcomers “Jacare” Souza and “King Mo” Lawal triumphed impressively as STRIKEFORCE closed out an amazing year in spectacular fashion with an incredible fight card before 9,362 at HP Pavilion Saturday on SHOWTIME®.

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 Brazil’s 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.

The event, presented by SHOWTIME and STRIKEFORCE, aired live simultaneously on SHOWTIME® and on the Web (Strikeforce: All Access) at http://strikeforce.sho.com. The SHOWTIME telecast began at 10 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the west coast); the Strikeforce: All Access webcast went at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT and is available through Dec. 24 at the site.

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 Le’s 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 I’ve 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 I’ve 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. I’ll do whatever STRIKEFORCE wants. I’m up for a third fight if that’s what they want.”

Jacare, a talented, non-nonsense, aggressive-minded sort, who will be an immediate threat in STRIKEFORCE’s 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.

Saturday’s thrilling event will re-air as follows:

DAY                                                                CHANNEL

Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 11 p.m. ET/PT        SHOWTIME 2®

STRIKEFORCE: Evolution also will be available On Demand beginning Tuesday, Dec. 22.

Mauro Ranallo called the action on SHOWTIME with MMA expert Stephen Quadros and MMA superstar Frank Shamrock serving as expert analysts.

Saturday’s non-televised results: Antwain “The Juggernaut” Britt (9-3), Virginia, TKO 1 over Scott Lightly (5-1), San Luis Obispo, Calif., at 205 pounds; Justin “The Silverback” Wilcox (8-3), San Jose, unanimous decision (30-27 twice, 29-28) over Daisuke Najamura (20-12) of Japan, at 155 pounds; and Alex Crispim (4-2), Pleasanton, Calif., unanimous decision (30-27 three times) over Al Fonseca (4-2), Santa Rosa, Calif., at 145 pounds.

For information on SHOWTIME Sports, including exclusive video, photos and news links on SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING and STRIKEFORCE mixed martial arts telecasts, along with access to the SHOWTIME Sports Facebook® and Twitter® pages, please go to http://Sports.Sho.com.