Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz will contest the lightweight championship Saturday night in Seattle in a fight that will almost certainly be among the most entertaining to take place in 2012.
That said, there are already a collection of guys lined up in the shark tank that is 155 pounds, and many of them will be eyeing the main event of UFC on FOX with particular interest.
Let's take a look at a few...
Cerrone has lost to both opponents in his career, but he’s still not far away from a title shot. The fact that he has fought all comers since joining the UFC and done it with resoundingly successful results has put him on the map in a big way.
He’ll fight Anthony Pettis at the next FOX show, the winner of which will very likely get a crack at the man who walks out of Seattle with the belt. Cerrone will be hoping for his rematch either way.
Speaking of Cerrone, it has become almost a guarantee that you can’t talk about him without talking about Pettis. These two have circled one another now for about a year, and once they get in the cage together, they’ll be fueled as much by distaste for one another as they will be by the natural showmanship they each possess.
Pettis holds a win over Henderson and would be an incredible matchup for Diaz. He has also been waiting for a shot at UFC gold for about two years, something that was promised to him when he left the WEC as lightweight champion.
If he beats Cerrone, he finally has it. He’ll be watching Saturday night, no doubt.
With the roadblock of Frankie Edgar out of his way, Maynard is back in the mix for a shot at the title. Edgar is the only man to ever beat him, and even in a trilogy against the scrappy Jersey boy, Maynard is 1-1-1—pretty impressive stuff.
With excellent wrestling and imposing power in both hands, Maynard might very well be the best lightweight in the world. He also holds a win over Diaz and poses a real problem for Henderson in all the places that the current champion excels—grappling, athleticism and raw strength.
Once he’s healthy again, he might well be a fight away from a shot at gold.
Miller has lost two of his last three, but he’s still one of the best lightweights in the UFC. The reasoning behind that? Those losses came to the two men fighting for the title on Saturday night. A little bit of luck and it could be Miller in there in place of either of them.
He’s durable, a great ground technician and has the type of relentless style that matches up well with both guys. While he didn’t look great against Henderson and was finished by Diaz, he’s still the type of perennial contender who will never be far away from a shot at gold.
In this case, he’ll likely watch eagerly with an eye on a rematch against either guy, all the while knowing that Joe Lauzon lies in wait at UFC 155, and a win there could have him back in the mix to get it.
After a bewildering amount of hype that lead to nothing, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez is finally coming to the UFC. He’ll be there in the first quarter of 2013—that’s all but a guarantee.
When he gets there he might very well jump the queue and step right in to unify the titles against the present champion. Whether that’s fair or not is irrelevant, as it’s a very real possibility.
While he’ll never fight his teammate and friend Diaz, if he’s the one to leave Seattle as champion on Saturday, Melendez could make a lot of sense as a potential opponent for Henderson around March.
The Cerrone vs. Pettis winner may have something to say about that, but sometimes injuries and scheduling dictate matchmaking, and Melendez might just be able to walk into a title shot as a result.
He’ll probably be watching cageside from Diaz’ corner on Saturday, but his interest may be of the “self” variety as much as it will be in his teammate taking home a title.