Who can give Henderson a good fight?

December, 9, 2012
12/09/12
12:56
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Nate Diaz not only failed in his attempt to dethrone Benson Henderson Saturday night in Seattle, he went out with a whimper.

Where was the fight?

It's a question worth considering of a mixed martial artist possessing the 27-year-old Californian's deserved reputation for putting opponents through hell in the Octagon. And, moreover, it's a question worth considering because of the way Henderson masterfully handled his business.

Future lightweight contenders, of which there are no shortage, might contemplate their prospects against Henderson in the wake of this shutout decision. And they might wonder (and shudder) if the result marked a telltale sign of a champion reaching the full measure of his potential, or the exposure of a relatively unathletic, wrestling-deficient challenger.

Whichever conclusions they reach, the man with the belt stands before them, confident and in his prime. Henderson won't go away unless someone makes him, a task Diaz could not meet.

Henderson, 29, is gifted with strength, speed, balance and flexibility. He's also disciplined and prepared and serious. Henderson has all the markings of a man who could hold the belt for a spell, even at 155 pounds.

So who would push him the way Diaz could not?

Gilbert Melendez
<center>Melendez</center>
Melendez

It's best to start with Melendez, the lying-in-wait Strikeforce champion whose move to UFC is all but assured in 2013. A fanciful plan prior to the fight circulated among Diaz's team, which includes Melendez, that in the event Diaz beat Henderson, Melendez would enter the Octagon at 145 pounds. Relegated to the dustbin of ideas, everyone can rightly focus on Melendez doing work at 155, where he's resided, at least a far as popular opinion goes, among the top three at that weight for years.

He has a much better chance of upending Henderson than Diaz did. First, Melendez is physical. He wrestles hard. Punches hard. Clinches hard. Everything about Melendez is intense, which suggests he would not get run over the same way Diaz did in Seattle. Melendez might come to realize that Henderson is just a step ahead in various departments, but he would, at the very least, force the UFC lightweight champion into a competitive contest.

Gray Maynard
Maynard
Maynard

Just because Frankie Edgar moved to 145 doesn't mean Maynard can't fight for the belt again. He's a big, hulking bruiser who slugs and wrestles -- sounds familiar. Maynard might even have enough skill and experience to execute a game plan against Henderson. But is he fast enough? Hey, he caught Edgar, so you have to figure the answer is yes.

Maynard's last outing, a five-round split decision over Clay Guida, was hardly his best. After the wars with Edgar it's possible he's spent, though I don't think so. If Maynard gets a crack at Henderson, he can win.

Eddie Alvarez
Alvarez
Alvarez

A wild card. Alvarez isn't signed with the UFC, but the former Bellator champion is poised to, and if he does, he'll bring a power striking game, wrestling, scrambling ability and considerable strength.

After losing his belt to Michael Chandler 13 months ago, some worried the luster was forever off the Philly fighter. But a win or two in the UFC would quickly make people forget about that stumble. And before he long he could find himself in position to fight for the belt.

As far as matchups go, Henderson-Alvarez just sounds like it would be a great time, right?

Donald Cerrone
Cerrone
Cerrone

Yes, Cerrone lost twice to Henderson. But if you've seen either bout, especially their contest in 2009, you don't care. You want to see another clash because when they step in a cage the fistic temperature -- standing, grappling, everything -- is just right.

Cerrone has just one loss since moving from the WEC to UFC. It happened to come against Nate Diaz, who, we know, was manhandled by Henderson. Yet Cerrone has won two bouts since the year-end disappointment in 2011 and is worth including in the discussion.

Anthony Pettis
Pettis
Pettis

Pettis was long ago promised a shot at the UFC belt. Because he decisioned Henderson in 2010 to win the WEC belt following a five-round war that culminated in the "Showtime" kick, the rematch really needs to happen, though a lot will depend how Pettis' fight with Donald Cerrone plays out in January.

Henderson solidified his standing at the top of the lightweight division with Saturday's win over Diaz. Earning his revenge over Pettis would certainly help him take strides toward attaining a status in the UFC enjoyed by other champions.

Speed, movement and diamond-cutting striking are hallmarks of Pettis' game. Could he keep Henderson off of him again?

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