UFC on Fox 10: 4 Fights for Benson Henderson to Take Next
Former 155-pound linchpin Benson Henderson thrust himself back into title contention with a methodical win over Josh Thomson in the main event of UFC on Fox 10 Saturday in Chicago.
"Bendo" calmly fought through several trying grappling exchanges with "The Punk" and bounced back from his submission loss to Anthony Pettis in their title fight at UFC 164 with a split-decision win.
With Pettis' next bout still up in the air, Henderson surely needs to score another win before he can expect another crack at UFC gold.
Here are four opponents the UFC's brass should consider lining up for Bendo in his next bout.
The unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov not only holds the longest winning streak in the lightweight division at 21 fights, the 25-year-old Russian also has a skill set that makes for a tantalizing matchup for Bendo.
Akin to Henderson, "The Eagle" possesses explosive striking and wrestling chops, a rock-solid chin and clean technique in every facet of his game.
A pro since 2008, Nurmagomedov holds seven submissions and seven KOs to his name, a fact that has some arguing that he has more killer instinct than Henderson. Bendo has mustered two KOs and eight submissions since starting his career in 2006.
Since the seventh-ranked Nurmagomedov can't seem to find a lightweight willing to lock horns with him, perhaps the never intimidated and always prepared Henderson will accept the daunting challenge.
Both Donald Cerrone and Benson Henderson have handled the ebbs and flows of competing in the lightweight division, arguably the most talent-laden weight class in the UFC.
Because of their ability to bounce back and evolve, the eighth-ranked Cerrone and top-ranked "Bendo" could potentially square off for the third time in mid-2014.
Henderson can claim responsibility for two of Cerrone's six career losses, both of which came in the latter days of the WEC.
Bendo first bested Cerrone and won the WEC interim lightweight championship with a unanimous decision win at WEC 43.
Roughly six months later, Henderson guillotined Cerrone at WEC 48 to retain his belt and hand "Cowboy" the lone submission loss of his career.
Since Cerrone fell to Rafael dos Anjos in August, he's looked virtually unstoppable, submitting Evan Dunham with a triangle choke and KO'ing Adriano Martins with a highlight-reel high kick in his last two bouts.
With both men aiming for another crack at lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, it seems proper for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to set up a third fight between Cowboy and Bendo.
Former bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz seems like the only fighter in the UFC with worse health luck than the third-ranked T.J. Grant.
Untimely injuries caused Grant to pull out of a pair of lightweight title scraps in 2013, one with Henderson and another with Pettis.
But bad luck has been the only variable that's hindered Grant since the 29-year-old Canadian's unanimous decision loss to Ricardo Almeida at UFC 124 in a welterweight bout.
Since then, Grant has reeled off five straight wins, including KOs of Matt Wiman and Gray Maynard in his last two outings.
A dangerous brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Grant has heavy hands, sufficient defensive wrestling chops and a trusty chin.
If UFC matchmaker Joe Silva doesn't want to keep Grant on the shelf until Pettis recovers from his knee injury, then perhaps a five-round main event fight with the top-ranked Henderson would make more sense.
In April, Henderson defended his lightweight strap for the third time with a controversial split-decision win over former Strikeforce linchpin Gilbert Melendez in his promotional debut at UFC on Fox 7.
Although Henderson scored no takedowns and surrendered one, he outstruck the second-ranked Melendez, 92-56, including 68-43 in the significant strikes category.
A resilient "El Nino" responded to his loss to "Bendo" by earning a unanimous decision win over Diego Sanchez in what Wrestling Observer Newsletter deemed the 2013 "Fight of the Year" at UFC 166.
Granted, Melendez got slightly outworked by Henderson in their first meeting. But critics should consider that Melendez had to deal with the pressure of fighting in the UFC for the first time, and doing so for a belt.
If the two fight again, expect Melendez to turn the tables and slightly outwork Henderson for a narrow split-decision win.