Yesterday on the UFC on Fox 4 media call, UFC president Dana White declared that the winner of this Saturday's headliner between Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Brandon "The Truth" Vera would get the next immediate shot at the winner of UFC 151's light-heavyweight title tilt between champion Jon "Bones" Jones and challenger Dan Henderson.
Needless to say, MMA fans took to Twitter in expressing their disagreement with the news. Some fans argued that Vera was not the man Rua should have to beat in order to justify a rematch with either Jones—who thoroughly dethroned Rua at UFC 128 last year—or Henderson—who put on the proverbial "Fight of The Millennium" with Rua at UFC 139 last fall. Others stayed vocal in saying that Vera's less-than-stellar record as of late did not justify a title shot against either Jones or Henderson, the former of whom defeated Vera at the UFC's debut on Versus (now NBC Sports Network).
In any event, the UFC president changed the station, so to speak, as the UFC brass opted to change the tune in light of the fans' outcries. To put it in simpler terms, the next contender to the king's throne will depend on who looks more impressive in victory. If the winner of Shogun vs. Vera is more impressive than the victor in the events co-headliner of Lyoto Machida vs. Ryan Bader, then the winner of Shogun vs. Vera will indeed get the next crack at the gold.
Likewise, if the winner of Machida vs. Bader prevails in more impressive fashion than that of the main event's victor, then either Machida or Bader will either have their dream fight with Henderson or their rematch with Jones.
However, the fact that it has come to this—that it has come to the point where four victims of the current champion are going to earn a shot at the gold with one win—begs a question that nobody's had the gall to ask yet:
What about Alexander Gustafsson?
Gustafsson has been on a five-fight win streak, looking no less impressive in his past outings than Rua, Vera, Bader or Machida did in their respective last few outings. Gustafsson has faced no shortage of tough, durable fighters in his path towards his golden dreams, either. Not only that, but Gustafsson also has not delivered any sort of lackluster performance that might deny his argument towards a big fight or a title eliminator—something which many feel Vera has, and something which some may feel Bader did in his unanimous-decision win over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 144.
No word has been given on who will face Gustafsson in that "big fight" that the UFC talked about, but is there any doubt that Gustafsson would make sense as the only real "challenge" left for the champion? Regardless of whether it's Jones or Henderson that supports all twelve pounds of the gold after UFC 151 next month, if Gustafsson wins that next fight and extends his current streak to 6-0?
We should say not, even though we don't know who's next for Gustafsson. After all, the man has earned his moment to dance with the fiercest wolves in the pack at 205 pounds. He deserves the chance to prove as such by facing someone as dangerous as Rua or Machida if at all possible, because in such few words, it's all that makes sense for him at this point.
Besides that, by lining up an opportunity to challenge for the gold and handing it to the man who looks the most impressive this weekend—whether it's the winner of the main event or of the co-main event—instead of allowing Gustafsson to earn it through his next fight, the UFC, ingenious as their marketing and PR strategies often are, proves what fans of the sport already know and are already scared to admit:
If or when Henderson loses at UFC 151, anyone other than Gustafsson is either just another mandatory challenger or a mandatory rematch for arguably the most creative and most unstoppable UFC light-heavyweight champion of this generation. Like it or not, the light-heavyweight division has finally been cleared of just about every sensible challenger.
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