Benson Henderson made it look easy against an opponent who has made a career out of making things difficult for his opponents. After Henderson's win over Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 5 on Saturday night, it's now time to begin discussing who will serve as the next challenger for the lightweight champion.
Henderson is already one win away from tying BJ Penn and predecessor Frankie Edgar for the most lightweight title defenses in UFC history. The lightweight division is far from void of serious contenders, though. Along with the fighters who have been in the mix for a shot at the UFC belt for years, Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez could be on their way to the Octagon in the near future.
When it comes to picking the next 155-pound title challenger, there are plenty of options available for the UFC to choose from. Let's take a look at who should be next for Henderson and the rest of the UFC on Fox 5 competitors who will be returning to the Octagon.
Against Scott Jorgensen, John Albert suffered his third straight first-round submission loss.
Still, Albert has been highly entertaining and even competitive despite the outcomes of his recent fights. Considering he won Fight of the Night honors for his performance at UFC on Fox 5, Albert is deserving of one more chance to compete inside the Octagon.
That chance could come against Norifumi Yamamoto, the only other UFC bantamweight currently riding a three-fight losing streak.
With his win over John Albert, Scott Jorgensen broke out of a losing streak and can return to proving himself as one of the best bantamweights in the world.
A solid collegiate wrestler, Jorgensen has had some trouble with elite strikers as of late. However, he would provide an excellent test for an up-and-coming grappler like T.J. Dillashaw.
Dillashaw had been booked to fight Mike Easton on Saturday night, but he was forced out of that matchup due to injury. Now that Easton is coming off of a loss, Jorgensen seems a good opponent to determine how close Dillashaw is to becoming an elite 135-pound fighter.
Nam Phan took his fight with Dennis Siver on less than one month's notice, and it showed. Phan had no answer for the German's kickboxing and even surrendered multiple takedowns to an opponent known mostly for his striking.
When he's able to stand against strikers who are less technical than himself, Phan is highly entertaining to watch. That's why his next fight should come against a grappler who is willing to stand and trade.
Steven Siler fits that description and also lost in his most recent appearance.
Dennis Siver is ready to compete with the best of the best in the featherweight division. If that wasn't clear enough after his win over Diego Nunes, it should be now.
With most 145-pound contenders currently booked for other fights and Chan Sung Jung being much closer to a title shot than Siver, a bout with Cub Swanson seems to make the most sense for the German.
The dynamic strikers would surely put on a show, with the winner of that matchup moving very near to a featherweight title shot.
Marcus LeVesseur and Henry Martinez have had very similar UFC careers with three Octagon appearances under their belts.
Both fighters lost in their UFC debut, won split decisions in their sophomore efforts and suffered second-round knockout losses at UFC on Fox 5. Had the judges not swung their way in their previous bouts, LeVesseur and Martinez would probably be getting released from their contracts right about now.
Instead, the lightweights sit at the bottom of their division's ladder with probably one more chance to prove themselves inside the Octagon. A loser leaves town match seems fitting.
Abel Trujillo and Daron Cruickshank looked excellent on Saturday, finishing their opponents with strikes in the second rounds of their respective bouts.
Though both fighters looked like strikers at UFC on Fox 5, Trujillo and Cruickshank have really solid bases in all areas. Therefore, the fighters are capable of providing a worthy test to one another as they both attempt to climb the lightweight rankings.
Joe Proctor suffered his first official UFC loss against Ramsey Nijem, but he hung tough against a fighter who could have a long-term spot on the UFC roster.
He has some improvements to make in all areas, but Proctor has the tools to stay with the UFC awhile himself. First, he'll have to get back on a winning track, though.
A bout with John Cholish would give him a reasonable chance to do just that.
Ramsey Nijem's striking technique has prevented him from making a quick rise in the lightweight division, while John Makdessi has shown some holes in his takedown defense. Still, both of the 20-something-year-old fighters have promising futures.
Now that both men are coming off of victories, Nijem and Makdessi would be intriguing opponents for one another due to their contrasting styles. If either fighter were able to finish the other, they would probably earn a noticeable step up in competition as well.
Pegged as a potential title challenger heading into UFC on Fox 5, Mike Easton was shut down by Raphael Assuncao. The Brazilian countered most of Easton's attacks, having little problem with his opponent's pressuring style.
Easton must now take a step back and meet an opponent who is also coming off of a loss. A bout with a striker like Yves Jabouin could lead Easton to put his offensive grappling on display for the first time since joining the UFC's bantamweight roster.
Raphael Assuncao has now proven he can become a contender in the bantamweight division, but his conservative striking style won't make him a fan favorite any time soon.
That is why the black belt should be matched with a more one-dimensional grappler in his next outing. With wins in his first two UFC bouts, Bryan Caraway is due for a step up in competition and could give Assuncao the opportunity to put on more of a show on the ground.
A win over Easton arguably makes Assuncao one of the 10 best bantamweights in the organization, but the UFC will want to see a more dominant performance from him before he is given a shot at a top contender.
Things have not been going well for Jeremy Stephens recently. After being arrested in October, Stephens suffered a brutal knockout loss to Yves Edwards at UFC on Fox 5.
It was the first knockout loss in the career of Stephens, who has himself made a habit of putting opponents to sleep with his fists.
Against any striker, Stephens is fun to watch no matter the outcome of the bout. A bout with Anthony Njokuani should result in an equally exciting finish
Yves Edwards has never been an easy opponent for anyone throughout his long career. As an underdog, Edwards shocked Jeremy Stephens with a first-round knockout on Saturday.
Since he's only one fight removed from a loss to Tony Ferguson, Edwards probably won't be considered for a fight with a lightweight contender. Still, he deserves a fight with a fairly highly ranked 155-pound fighter.
A bout with Jacob Volkmann would test Edwards' takedown defense to see if he's made major improvements as a fighter or if he's still in the middle of the pack in his division.
Mike Swick's knockout of DaMarques Johnson led some to believe he would have a resurgence following a two-year absence from competition. However, Swick found himself tasting disappointment once again in the form of a knockout loss to Matt Brown at UFC on Fox 5.
Considering the rough patch he has been going through, there's a chance Swick could consider retirement. That said, there aren't many fighters who would accept going out like he would have against Brown.
Instead, Swick might fight another veteran coming off of a knockout loss. After being stopped by Mike Pierce, Aaron Simpson could be Swick's next opponent.
Once on the verge of being released from the UFC, Matt Brown has won four straight fights and is on the verge of earning a fight with a welterweight contender.
At one point, a win over Mike Swick could catapult a fighter (see Dan Hardy) to a title shot, but not any more. Still, Brown's win over the longtime UFC fighter should score him another fight with a well-known veteran.
If Brown can stop the very tough Dan Miller, he would be more than deserving of a shot at a top 170-pound fighter.
Rory MacDonald welcomed BJ Penn back from inactivity by putting together a beating that may well send the Hawaiian straight back into retirement. Penn could have some success at lightweight, but there are some doubts that he is motivated enough to make the weight cut to 155 pounds.
After a slow start, MacDonald began unloading on Penn from distance, while mixing in a couple takedowns for good measure. The fast-rising Canadian now finds himself in the hunt for a title shot, but he would first like to avenge the only loss of his career against Carlos Condit.
With Condit coming off of a loss to MacDonald training partner Georges St-Pierre, the rematch has a pre-built story line and makes sense from a competitive stand-point as well.
Though he hasn't looked like the UFC champion he once was as of late, Mauricio Rua is still a high-level light heavyweight and a fighter capable of putting on a great show against anyone willing to exchange with him.
There is a highly exciting fight between Quinton Jackson and Glover Teixeira coming up in January. While the winner of that fight will find themselves near the top of the 205-pound division, the loser will be looking for a fight with a big name to get back on track.
A bout with either Jackson or Teixeira would result in a slugfest for Rua, who would probably see a fighter coming off of a loss in his next appearance. Jackson has contemplated leaving the UFC following his bout with Teixeira, but some money and a chance to fight "Shogun" could change his tune.
Alexander Gustafsson scored the biggest win of his career on Saturday with a decision win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Prior to UFC on Fox 5, UFC president Dana White said that would make Gustafsson the top light heavyweight contender. However, with champion Jon Jones set to defend his belt against Chael Sonnen in April, that would likely require the Swede sitting out more than six months.
If the UFC can make it happen, Jones could fight Anderson Silva after his bout with Sonnen. It's even possible Jones could test the waters at heavyweight for the first time.
Should Jones take a superfight or heavyweight bout, there would be time for Gustafsson to meet the winner of a fight between Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson. With Henderson recovering from knee injury, it's even possible Gustafsson could serve as a replacement against Machida should "Hendo" be unable to compete by February.
Nate Diaz may have come up short in his first shot at a UFC title, but he still has many years as an elite lightweight ahead of him.
Coming off of a title shot, Diaz would be a good opponent for a fighter who is one win away from earning a spot in a championship bout of their own.
A rematch between Maynard and Diaz would give both lightweights plenty to fight for. After winning an exhibition match against Maynard on The Ultimate Fighter, Diaz suffered a split decision loss to Maynard in January 2010.
Undoubtedly, Diaz would like to atone for that loss, while a bout with the Stockton, Calif., native would give Maynard a chance to earn one more shot at the lightweight title that has eluded him.
Benson Henderson is close to making history less than one year into his reign as lightweight champion.
Many expected Henderson to win in the UFC on Fox 5 main event, but his dominant performance over Nate Diaz should earn him some overdue respect after he fought to close decisions with Frankie Edgar.
The titleholder began his current winning steak following a loss to Anthony Pettis in the final fight in WEC history. A rematch between the former WEC champions would be an easy sell should Pettis beat Donald Cerrone in January.