Coming off of two close and controversial victories over Frankie Edgar, Benson Henderson was in need of a dominant victory to prove himself in the eye of the ever-fickle mixed martial arts fan community. His UFC on Fox 5 opponent, Stockon bad boy Nate Diaz, was a stylistic challenge for the champion on paper. Featuring in your face, high volume boxing and slick, high-level jiu-jitsu, Diaz was on paper a stylistic nightmare for Henderson. But bucking the predictions of a close fight, Henderson went out and smashed Diaz for five rounds, winning by scores of 50-45, 50-45, and 50-43. He not only dominated Diaz with ground and pound, but also dropped Diaz three times in the fight. It was the victory Henderson needed to assert himself as the true king of 155.
There are two names being floated out there for Henderson’s next opponent: Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez. Pettis, who handed Henderson his lone loss in the last sixteen fights at WEC 53, fights Donald Cerrone next month at UFC on Fox 6. Provided he wins that fight, I think Pettis is right fight to book. Not only would that fight be a sellable rematch for the UFC to sell, but as you may remember, Pettis landed the infamous “Showtime Kick” to seal his victory in that fight. In my opinion, that is the clear fight to book at this time.
Here are give other bouts to book in the aftermath of UFC on Fox 5.
Rory MacDonald versus Carlos Condit
MacDonald asked for this fight in his post fight interview with Joe Rogan after beating down BJ Penn for three rounds, and I cannot think of one good reason not to book this fight. MacDonald is undefeated since losing to Condit at UFC 115, while Condit elevated his status as an elite welterweight to its highest point ever by becoming the UFC interim welterweight champion. Neither was Top 5 in their original bout, but now it’s pretty hard to argue that either man is not top five at this point. MacDonald wants it, Dana White says he is interested in it, so as long as Condit agrees to it, I think we’ll see this fight in early 2013. If not Condit for MacDonald, a bout with Dong Hyun Kim would make a lot of sense based on where they are in the division.
Alexander Gustafsson versus Jon Jones – Chael Sonnen winner
Preferably, I’d like to see Gustafsson fight one more time before getting a title shot to avoid a long layoff, but I’m not sure there is anyone out there who makes sense for him. With his win over “Shogun” Rua, he has earned his spot at the top of the division, and career wise it makes sense for him to wait. The only downside is that he will have to wait at least six months for his shot, and that is assuming everyone comes out healthy of the Jones-Sonnen fight. One intriguing option is this: if Dan Henderson is hurt still as rumored, plug in Gustafsson against Lyoto Machida at UFC 157. Another is Rashad Evans, assuming he beats Antonio Rogerio Noguiera at UFC 156.
Nate Diaz versus Diego Sanchez
Diaz has nothing to be ashamed of in losing to Benson Henderson. He fought hard with an injured eye, and there are still plenty of fights out there for him at 155. He should start by battling Sanchez, who is set to return to 155 after a run at 170 pounds. I love this fight for it’s potential scrambles, wild striking exchanges, and mean mugging stare downs. Both of these TUF veterans come to scrap every time out, and if you remember the Nick Diaz – Sanchez bout from The Ultimate Fighter 2 Finale, you’ll know that this one has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. I’d love to see this headline a FUEL TV or FX card sometime in early 2013.
Dennis Siver versus Cub Swanson
After a mildly successful run at 155, Siver looks like a new man at 145. After beating Diego Nunes, Siver smashed the always-game Nam Phan on the prelims of UFC on Fox 5. At this point, I’m ready to see him take a step up in competition, and find out if he is legitimate contender material. A matchup against Swanson, who has won three straight fights by TKO or KO, would be a good litmus test for Siver. The winner of this bout would be in prime contention to get a big name at 145, and could be within a fight or two of getting a title shot.
Yves Edwards versus Rafael dos Anjos
Both Edwards and dos Anjos are coming off of impressive victories at an interesting time for the lightweight division. Edwards won via first round knockout over Jeremy Stephens at UFC on Fox 5, becoming the first man to KO “Lil’ Heathen”. dos Anjos most recently dominated Canadian grappler Mark Bocek for three rounds at UFC 154, and is in need of a big name for his next bout. Both of these fighters have the ability to succeed wherever the fight takes place, and with both coming off of wins, a bout between would be a good addition to a early 2013. A backup bout for Edwards would be Josh Thomson, whom Edwards beat via head kick KO way back in 2004 at UFC 49.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua versus Glover Teixeira – Quinton “Rampage” Jackson loser
To be frank, the “Shogun” we see fighting now is not the same “Shogun” from his days in PRIDE. He looks shower, a little worn down for his many wars, and just not in shape. He’s still competitive, but one has to wonder if his days near the top of 205 are done. In his recent fights against Dan Henderson, Brandon Vera, and Jones, we have seen “Shogun” endure severe physical punishment. If he is in shape, I still like him against top-level guys at 205. A good gauge of where Rua stands would be a bout against the loser of the Teixeira – Jackson bout at next months UFC on Fox 6 card, particularly if it were Jackson.