They met 437 days ago in the Arizona desert, producing one of the great fights of 2010 and one of the signature moments in mixed martial arts history. Forever linked by their first encounter, Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis now appear destined to meet once again, this time with far more at stake.
Henderson ousted pound-for-pound mainstay Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision to capture the lightweight championship in the UFC 144 headliner on Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, eliciting 49-46, 48-47 and 49-46 nods from the cageside judges. A few hours earlier, Pettis figuratively decapitated “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 semifinalist Joe Lauzon with a first-round head kick.
The high-profile wins by two of the lightweight division’s promising young stars appear to set the stage for a rematch of their epic WEC 53 encounter in December 2010. His triumph ealed by his unforgettable fifth-round “Showtime Kick” off the cage, Pettis won by unanimous decision. It remains the only time Henderson has been beaten in the last five years.
Their first bout was undeniably superb, but the rematch has the potential to exceed it. Henderson and Pettis used the World Extreme Cagefighting springboard to better themselves and raise their respective profiles, and they were at their very best in Japan. It looks as though rounds six through 10 between them could soon be en route. Who could argue?
In wake of UFC 144 “Edgar vs. Henderson,” here are seven other matchups we want to see made:
Jose Aldo vs. Hatsu Hioki: For American fans that had not seen Hioki in top form, UFC 144 likely proved an eye-opening experience. The Japanese ace turned away the seasoned Bart Palaszewski with takedowns, effortless guard passes, submission attempts and ground-and-pound. He even humored the WEC import with an extended standup engagement in the second round. Hioki’s unanimous decision over Palaszewski figures to bring about a showdown with reigning featherweight king Aldo. He has won six consecutive fights and has yet to be finished in 30 professional appearances.
Frankie Edgar vs. Jim Miller-Nate Diaz loser: Fires in fighters like Edgar are not easily extinguished. Minus UFC gold for the first time in nearly two years, the 30-year-old will be a force with which cream-of-the-crop lightweights will have to deal for years to come. The loss to Henderson will only stoke the flames of his competitive spirit. Provided Edgar can string together one or two wins following this setback, he could find himself in play for a title shot in no time at all, perhaps even by the end of 2012. Miller and Diaz will lock horns in a high-stakes affair at UFC on Fox 3 in May. Have the winner knock on Edgar’s door.
Ryan Bader vs. Alexander Gustafsson: Bader was far from spectacular, but a victory over one of the greatest light heavyweights in history -- even if it was an overweight, out-of-shape and disengaged Quinton Jackson -- cannot be discounted. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner seems to have left behind the sour memories of his 2011 defeats to Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz, as he has clawed back into meaningful circulation at 205 pounds. Should Gustafsson get past Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on April 14 in his native Sweden, a pairing with the once-again-relevant Bader could prove ideal.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: The rematch needs to happen at some point, and, with both men on the rebound, now appears to be as good a time as any. Jackson never seemed interested in a fight with Bader, but a second crack at Rua -- the 2005 Pride Fighting Championships middleweight grand prix winner who handed him arguably the worst beating of his career -- could bring his Memphis, Tenn., blood back to a boil.
Jake Shields vs. Johny Hendricks-Josh Koscheck winner: Shields may lack some of the world-class physical tools of his peers, but no one can ever question his determination and will to win. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt grinded through his 15-minute encounter with Yoshihiro Akiyama en route to a unanimous decision, throwing the brakes on a two-fight losing streak and strengthening his position in the UFC’s cutthroat welterweight division. Because of his pedigree and past accomplishments, Shields’ road does not figure to get any less treacherous from here. In that spirit, he could fit nicely into a matchup with the winner of the Hendricks-Koscheck duel at UFC on Fox 3 in May.
Tim Boetsch vs. Chris Weidman: Boetsch’s situation could not have been direr, as he was completely outgunned in his fight with the world-ranked Yushin Okami for two full rounds. However, the man they call “The Barbarian” turned the tide in dramatic fashion in the final frame, as he rocked Okami with power and aggression before stopping the former middleweight title contender with a series of wicked right uppercuts from the clinch. The win likely earns Boetsch a crack at another Top 10 middleweight later this year. The undefeated Weidman, who bested 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Demian Maia on short notice in January, certainly fits the bill.
Mark Hunt vs. Pat Barry-Lavar Johnson winner: Hunt was nothing more than an afterthought when the UFC picked up his contract in 2010, and a 63-second submission loss to Sean McCorkle in his promotional debut at UFC 119 did nothing to dissuade the notion. However, the 37-year-old has not lost since, and he poked his head back above the .500 mark with a first-round technical knockout against the favored Cheick Kongo at UFC 144. Hunt may be well past his prime, but he still packs a mighty wallop and becomes must-see-television when matched properly. Barry and Johnson will duke it out at UFC on Fox 3 in May. Pin Hunt to the victor.