Lightweight standout Evan Dunham saw his two-fight win streak come to a halt at UFC 152, suffering a unanimous decision loss to Canadian hometown favorite T.J. Grant.
The fight was an absolute war that took place almost exclusively on foot. A bloodied Dunham did all he could to keep pace with Grant, but was consistently backed against the fence and forced to slug it out from a defensive position.
The fight was of the variety that should have no loser. Unfortunately, MMA can be a cruel sport, and Dunham has to deal with defeat despite a praiseworthy performance.
While it may not entirely take the sting out of the defeat, Dunham's back-and-forth war with Grant is likely to impress Dana White and the UFC brass enough for him to maintain his position in the lightweight rankings. Losses may be tough to swallow, but not all losses are created equal.
Still, even if this loss doesn't shove Dunham to the back of the lightweight line, the Oregon native was in need of a win. Now 2-3 over his past five contests, Dunham finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into the expansive lightweight fade.
Such an impressive performance in defeat may be enough to hold Dunham's place, but stagnation in a division so rich with talent can hardly feel like much of a moral victory.
So what's next for Dunham?
Realistically, Dunham should get another solid, relatively known opponent at 155. An interesting opponent for him may be Edson Barboza. He's coming off the first loss of his career, but still brings enough to make for an intriguing fight.
Alternatively, the winner of UFC 154's Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Mark Bocek could present a suitable challenge.
Another potential option is Thiago Tavares, if he is able to dispatch Dennis Hallman at UFC on FX 5.
Otherwise, embodying the next level of competition for surging Russian prospect Khabib Nurmagomedov might be a suitable role for Dunham to play.
Whoever it ends up being, Dunham's next opponent will likely be below top-tier, but will almost certainly signify a tough challenge.
As long as Dunham keeps putting on shows like that of UFC 152, who really cares who his next opponent is?