Dan Henderson is in an interesting position these days.
He's still a consensus top-10 light heavyweight, but he's coming off of three straight losses. He's a living legend in the sport, but he just got KO'd for the first time in his career, and it happened in spectacular fashion. He's probably not done, but he might be done.
And he doesn't have a contract.
The 43-year-old former Olympian is a bad dude. People love him, and he's likely to be back with the UFC soon, according to Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com. When he returns, though, he'll need to be matched very carefully out of concern for both his relevance and his health.
Here are five possible options for that return fight.
Jacare has been on an absolute tear since joining the UFC, finishing guys in violent fashion without breaking a sweat. At 34-years-old, he seems to be hitting his stride, developing into a full-on mixed martial artist after years as one of the best grapplers in the world.
The one thing that missing? A signature win over a big name. He's notched wins over Yushin Okami, Robbie Lawler, and Matt Lindland, but those guys all pale in comparison to Dan Henderson.
In return for taking the fight, Henderson gets a chance to reinvent himself at his proper weight class and position himself within striking distance of a title shot with a win. A win over Souza would look great and could easily warrant a fight with Anderson Silva or a title shot. (They could be one and the same after UFC 168.)
Souza fights Francis Carmont in February, but if Hendo returns in the spring and Souza scores a win, the fight could be an interesting offering.
November 19, 2011 will go down as the single greatest day in the history of mixed martial arts.
Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez put on the best fight Bellator had ever seen that night. But not long after, Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua took to the Octagon to immediately erase that fight from people's minds.
For five rounds, the two men hit each other with clubbing blows, brawling all over the cage in the greatest show of heart and will the sport has ever seen. Henderson won a narrow decision, but there's little doubt that the sport as a whole was the true winner.
With Rua coming off a nice win over James Te Huna and Henderson treading water just ahead of him in the rankings, why not do it again? Would anyone in their right mind complain?
No? No one? No complaints? I didn't think so.
Yes, it might be unimaginative to suggest another rematch for Henderson, but getting him to fight at middleweight has to tickle his fancy. Otherwise, he'll pass on the weight cut and just slug it out with guys bigger than him purely for his own amusement.
It's kind of why the world loves him.
In Michael Bisping, he would get an interesting matchup. The Brit is still in contention despite wilting whenever he gets to a title eliminator, and most people see him as one of the top five guys in the division. The two hated each other when they coached The Ultimate Fighter together in 2009, and Henderson's knockout of Bisping is likely the most violent ever seen in the UFC.
You don't think Bisping would like a chance to undo that? You don't think Henderson wouldn't like to do it again?
This is the type of bout that might get Hendo to look past the contracted weight class when it hits his desk.
Let's be real here: Daniel Cormier hasn't proved anything at light heavyweight. He hasn't even proved he can make the weight yet.
I'm not hating on him for no reason. I'm simply stating facts. Cormier has been a very good heavyweight who has racked up a pretty easy 13-0 record, and he has gotten himself in the physical condition to make competing at 205 very plausible.
So plausible, in fact, that he's signed on to fight Rashad Evans there at UFC 170.
But if he wins, it's not reasonable to assume he'll get a shot at Jon Jones and his light heavyweight title. Jones will fight Glover Teixeira a few weeks later. With a win there, he's likely going to rematch Alexander Gustafsson.
How about an Olympian vs. Olympian matchup early in the summer? The thing practically sells itself, and it would be interesting to see how Cormier would approach a fight with a comparable wrestler.
Before Vitor Belfort stopped Henderson earlier this month, the last guy to do it was Anderson Silva, and Henderson licks his chops at the prospect of getting a second chance there to this day.
But since that's not likely to happen any time soon, why not give him a chance to avenge one of his only other stoppage losses in a bout with a Nogueira of his choice? Both guys armbarred him in Pride FC, and they're the only other ones to beat Henderson inside the distance.
Henderson has shown a willingness to hop on the scale with penny rolls in his pockets just to qualify as a heavyweight, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that a fight with Big Nog could come together.
On the other hand, a fight with Lil' Nog might work too, as both he and Henderson are ranked right in the middle of the 205-pound pack and could really prove something with a win.
Nog Lite seems more likely based on the weight class and the ranking, but for the sake of something interesting that might appeal to Henderson's competitive sense, don't rule out Big Nog either.