Benson Henderson was victorious in the main event of UFC Fight Night 42, and the No. 2-ranked lightweight kept his name relevant in the chase for a title shot.
Henderson was pitted against No. 11-ranked contender Rustam Khabilov on Saturday night, and he was challenged by the talented fighter. Henderson took him into the championship rounds, and that is where he finished the fight with a rear-naked choke.
Anthony Pettis is the champion, and Gilbert Melendez is set to challenge him for the gold in the winter following the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter. That puts all contenders, Henderson included, in a waiting game. It is likely Henderson will have to fight twice more before having an opportunity at the gold.
So, who should be his first competitor? The options are not plentiful. Henderson is a top contender, and as such, he will have to fight top-tier competition. Here are three high-level fighters who could step inside the cage against Smooth.
Winner of Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller
UFC Fight Night 45 features this main event. Cerrone, ranked No. 5, and Miller, ranked No. 7, meet in a pivotal matchup. The winner will solidify himself as a top-five-level fighter, making him a prime candidate for Henderson.
Henderson has fought both before, and his first encounter with Cerrone was a classic fight.
If Cerrone wins, it is a fight that could draw interest due to their WEC past. The Miller fight is significantly less interesting.
Rafael dos Anjos
Dos Anjos was victorious on the same night as Henderson with a win over Jason High. He is ranked at No. 5 in the division.
He is 6-1 in his last seven bouts. Dos Anjos has quietly been one of the most consistent lightweights in the world. He is a well-rounded fighter who has improved his striking. A fight against Henderson is a great way to test dos Anjos' status in the division and give Henderson a top-level opponent.
It is a fight that could co-main event a pay-per-view card or headline a lower-level show. After competing on the same show, it makes a lot of sense.
The Eagle is ranked No. 4 in the division, and this is whom Henderson initially thought he was going to fight on Saturday.
Fights I'd like to see after tonight - Bendo vs. Nurmagomedov - Sanchez/Pearson 2, Dodson vs. the winner of Johnson/Bagautinov #UFC— Damon Martin (@DamonMartin) June 8, 2014
Nurmagomedov is 22-0 and quickly becoming the "it" guy in the division. Henderson accepts any and all challengers. This makes it the fight to make at 155.
With Henderson's confusion in accepting the Khabilov fight, there is a bit of an angle to sell. The winner of Henderson-Nurmagomedov would immediately become the next top challenger and the man to beat in the division. The UFC could have this headline a future Fox event.
As the UFC struggles to find opposition for Nurmagomedov, it knows Henderson will accept the challenge. So, let's do it.