Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight scrappers Jeremy Stephens and Gilbert Melendez threw down last night (Sept. 9, 2017) at UFC 215 inside Rogers Arena in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Despite firmly holding a position inside the top 10, things haven’t been going that well for Stephens lately. The veteran had lost three of his last four bouts heading into this match, but nonetheless was still receiving big fights. Last night, Stephens looked to bounce back to the win column in his standard brawling fashion.

A trio of losses and failed drug test sent Melendez to 145 lbs., which he made for the first time without issue ahead of this match up. It was a make-or-break moment for “El Nino,” who was pretty much fighting for his UFC career.

Melendez opened by looking to maintain some distance, but Stephens landed effective kicks early. In fact, Stephens was pretty happy to fire off sharp jabs and punish his opponent with kicks.

Melendez landed a few hard counters, but mostly it was Stephens landing the better shots. One of “Lil Heathen’s” low kicks did some type of structural damage, as Melendez was having difficulty walking. A low kick sent Melendez to the ground, but he stormed back to his feet and backed his opponent off with aggression and combinations. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last, as another clean low kick sent Melendez falling to his butt.

Melendez tried to hang tough, but Stephens’ low kicks were brutal and clearly earned him the opening round.

Melendez opened the second round with aggression, trying to stop Stephens from ripping apart his leg further. Melendez switched to Southpaw and kept stalking, eating shots but also stinging his opponent with straight left hands. For a minute, it seemed like Melendez would be able to bring momentum back to his corner, but Stephens adjusted. Rather than loading up, he stabbed around the shelled up defense of Melendez and score with quick shots.

Plus, he still managed to land an occasional low kick to Melendez’s wounded leg, which sent “El Nino” to mat.

Following the advice of his corner, Melendez remained a Southpaw and advanced, but too much damage was done. His movements were not particularly threatening, which meant Stephens was pretty free to style on him. To his credit, Stephens did a fantastic job of mixing his attack on. Sometimes, he threw quick punches only to set up massive body shots. Other times, he switched it up to fire hard high kicks on a stationary foe.

And of course, that low kick sent Melendez to the mat whenever it landed.

Much of what Stephens did in this fight will be overlooked due to his opponent’s injury — which Stephens caused — but he looked incredible. For three rounds, Stephens controlled range and landed the biggest shots. He showcased his usual power, but also the speed and technique that he occasionally neglects.

Plus, he kept it up for 15 hard minutes of combat.

It was a stellar return to form for the longtime veteran and precisely the win he needed to remain relevant at 145 lbs. Next up, a brawl with Chan Sung Jung would be fantastic.

After a year away from the cage, this is really a rough bout for Melendez. Physically, he looked in great shape without being drawn out, which is pretty ideal for a weight class drop. In the first couple minutes before Melendez’s leg gave out, he was being out-worked, but “El Nino” was also finding his range and landing some hard counter shots.

Stephens mentioned that Melendez was vulnerable to low kicks because of his boxing stance, and that’s certainly true. At the same time, the damage to Melendez’s leg is impossible to predict; it can happen off a single clean kick that lands on the perfect spot. Melendez was taken out of the fight before he ever really had a chance, and I’d personally like to see him receive another shot despite the losing streak.

Last night at UFC 215, Jeremy Stephens battered Gilbert Melendez en route to a decision victory. Who should “Lil Heathen” face next?

For complete UFC 215 “Nunes vs. Shevchenko” results and play-by-play, click HERE!