It seems strange somehow to begin a discussion about the UFC light heavyweight championship without mentioning the names Jon Jones, Rashad Evans or even, in light of recent news, Lyoto Machida.
Yes, there are a great many people "in the mix," (to use Dana-speak), for the UFC’s marquee strap.
Amid the seemingly endless Jones/Evans “will they fight, won’t they fight” narrative and the recent announcement that Machida will be getting the next shot (so apparently it’s “they won’t fight…yet”), the casual fan would be forgiven for forgetting “Shogun” Rua and Dan Henderson are even fighting, let alone in striking distance of a title shot themselves.
A month before Machida and Jones square off in Toronto, these two Pride legends will face each other in the main event of UFC 139 in San Jose. It’s the kind of matchup that got fans excited when it was first announced.
Both men are known knockout artists with a litany of scalps between them. Both men are fan favorites with long histories in the sport. Each is a former champion and the definition of world class.
But before the Machida vs. Jones announcement, the general consensus regarding this fight was that the winner would be getting the next title shot.
Now it’s not so certain.
Dan Henderson certainly hopes this fight launches him into a title situation. That’s the fight he originally wanted, after all, as the reigning Strikeforce LHW champion.
It’s the fight that seemed somewhat close to happening before the aforementioned Jones vs. Evans drama managed to (once again) hold up the top of the division.
Henderson’s campaign for a title shot is not without merit. After all, other Strikeforce champions have been brought over and given a title shot based solely on the Strikeforce belt over their shoulders.
Two Strikeforce champions received instant title shots against GSP immediately upon crossing over. OK, Jake had to fight Martin Kampmann, but after beating Hendo that was viewed by many as a gimme fight.
Of course, one of said champions blows it all by failing to show up to a press conference, while the other tries to skewer Georges' face like he was making an eyeball thumb-kabob. But the principal remains the same.
Then there's Alistair Overeem, the Strikeforce heavyweight champ who would probably have gotten a title shot in his UFC debut if it weren’t for the fact that Overeem vs. Dos Santos is the fight the UFC chose to go with for their FOX debut.
As it is, a marquee matchup with top PPV draw Brock Lesnar may be even more beneficial to The Reem’s career.
Then there’s talk that Strikeforce LW champ Gilbert Melendez might get an instant title shot if (when) he crosses over to the UFC. Plus there are all the rumors surrounding a potential Dominick Cruz vs. Christiane “Cyborg” Santos superfight.
OK, I just made that up. But tell me that wouldn’t be a little bit fun. And if Dominick keeps running through challengers at 135 lbs., who else are they going to throw in there with him? Answer: Kenny Florian with one leg cut off.
So Henderson’s got a case for a title shot, but what about “Shogun?" Let’s not forget that he was the reigning champion only a few months before Jon Jones ascended to the top of the division and exploded everyone’s faces.
Jones made Rua look awfully bad when he took the title from him back in March. But was it really a bad enough beating to keep him from another title shot, as it would if it happened in another division?
I say no. Plus if Jones should run through Machida and Evans, then we’re looking at a suddenly shallow list of light heavyweight title contenders. “Shogun” could definitely receive another shot in that situation.
Will the winner of Rua vs. Hendo being getting a title shot? Eventually, yes. With Machida vs. Jones already booked and Evans waiting seemingly since Biblical times for his title shot, there’s really no argument for Hendo or “Shogun” to cut in line with a win.
Still, a win here guarantees that the winner will probably be getting a title shot at some point. In today’s UFC LHW division, that’s about as much certainty as you’re going to get.
Unless, of course Evans gets injured again—or the invincible Jones should happen to lose. Either situation could see the winner of Rua vs. Henderson get fast-tracked to a title shot ASAP.