Though he stole the lightweight title from Frankie Edgar back in February and then defended the strap in an August rematch, Ben Henderson's role as champion has largely been perceived as unconsummated.
Perhaps it was a result of not having defended the title against anyone but the man he won it from. Or perhaps it was because both fights with Edgar were decided by the narrowest of margins.
Whatever the reason, Henderson's authority as champion was quite precarious heading into UFC on Fox 5's main event this Saturday night.
All that is now, as they say, ancient history.
Henderson turned what was expected to be a hotly contested battle into an absolute rout, completely shutting down opponent Nate Diaz at every corner and nearly stopping him with strikes on a couple of occasions.
The performance was impressive enough that what was once begrudging acknowledgement of Henderson's championship role should quickly turn to immediate, universal acceptance.
The question therefore changes from one of legitimacy to one of direction—now that Henderson is an undisputed champion, where does he go from here?
The UFC's 155-pound weight class is loaded with talent and stacked with viable contenders, and there is certainly no shortage of options available for Henderson's next match. The most appealing scenario though, has to be a rematch with Anthony Pettis.
Pettis is scheduled to take on Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 6 next January. A win would be his third in a row, which would likely be good enough to land him a title shot.
What makes Henderson vs. Pettis a desirable option is that the two have a history together. Pettis not only handed Henderson his last professional loss, he put an exclamation on the victory with the now famous off-the-wall-head-kick in the closing moments of the bout.
The potential rematch would feature two extremely dynamic fighters and comes with a ready-made revenge angle to market it from.
What's not to like?
Alternatively, Gray Maynard could receive attention as Henderson's next opponent. Maynard, however, recently suffered a knee injury that forced him to withdraw from a contest later this month.
His impending inactivity means the only way he'll be ushered to the front of the line is if Pettis loses to Cerrone and the UFC feels that there is no viable candidate to challenge Henderson. In that case Maynard might become the default option even if he cannot actively build a case for himself anytime soon.
An under-the-radar possibility for Henderson's next fight is that he could welcome Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez to the UFC in the spring. A unification bout seems inevitable given Strikeforce's impending demise; it's really just a question of when that will occur.
For now, the Pettis scenario looks the most realistic. And lucky us, it's definitely the most intriguing possibility (not withstanding a Jose Aldo jump to 155).
All Pettis has to do to make it a reality is beating Cerrone in January.
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