It was not the clean, decisive victory for which Benson Henderson had aimed, but his split verdict over Frankie Edgar in the UFC 150 main event on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver allowed him to exit the Octagon with the lightweight championship belt still wrapped around his waist.
While controversial, the bout and resulting decision did nothing to lower the stock of either man. Some may desire another rematch between them, but UFC President Dana White indicated before and after the fight that the promotion intended to move in another direction. That leaves Edgar with a career choice: remain at lightweight and work his way towards another title shot or yield to the pressure to downshift to 145 pounds. The decision becomes all the more difficult when one considers how close he came to dethroning Henderson in the Mile High City.
The champion attacked Edgar’s lower leg with a series of well-timed kicks, but the strategy did little to slow the New Jersey native and became less and less of a factor as the rematch tracked into the later rounds. Edgar, meanwhile, called upon counter right hands to the head and body, one of which resulted in a second-round knockdown. He also delivered four takedowns in the five-round bout, all while connecting on more total strikes and significant strikes. Still, he wound up on the wrong side of a split decision.
Henderson now turns his attention to surging “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner Nate Diaz. The 27-year-old Cesar Gracie protégé last appeared at UFC on Fox 3 in May, when he submitted AMA Fight Club standout Jim Miller with a second-round guillotine choke. Diaz has rattled off three consecutive wins, two of them finishes, since returning to the lightweight division.
In wake of UFC 150 “Henderson vs. Edgar 2,” here are five other matchups that need to be made:
Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis: The mere thought of a showdown between “Cowboy” and “Showtime” has fans frothing at the mouth. Cerrone recovered from an unfortunate encounter with Melvin Guillard’s fast hands to knock out his former Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts stablemate with a head kick and right cross 76 seconds into the co-main event. Backed by a stellar 6-1 mark inside the Octagon, he has repeatedly called for a bout with Pettis. One of the sport’s most gifted offensive fighters, Pettis has remained on the sidelines since he wiped out Joe Lauzon in February. Shoulder surgery will keep the Milwaukee native out of the cage until the fall.
Frankie Edgar vs. Jose Aldo-Erik Koch loser: If Edgar elects to try the featherweight division on for size, there will be no shortage of potential opponents for the former 155-pound champion. The once-beaten Aldo will carry a 14-fight winning streak into his five-round title defense against Roufusport’s Koch in the UFC 153 main event on Oct. 13 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Koch, 23, has won four in a row.
Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner: Guillard saw his window of opportunity against Cerrone open and shut in a blink. At the end of it all, he lay at the feet of the “Cowboy,” undone by a swift head kick and searing right cross. On a short list of potential title contenders at 155 pounds less than a year ago, Guillard has suffered three defeats in his last four appearances. The slump, for now, has driven him out of the circle of relevance. A former World Extreme Cagefighting champion, Varner upset talented Brazilian prospect Edson Barboza in May, only to watch the momentum from that thrilling victory run dry in his submission loss to Lauzon at UFC on Fox 4.
Jake Shields vs. Yushin Okami: Moments after Okami stopped Buddy Roberts on second-round punches from the back mount, Shields made a triumphant return to the middleweight division. The former Strikeforce champion captured a unanimous decision over Ed Herman, as he employed strong work in the clinch, a series of takedowns and his trusted top game against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 finalist. Shields previously defeated Okami by majority decision in the semifinals of the 2006 Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament in Hawaii.
Max Holloway vs. Nam Phan: Holloway, the youngest fighter on the UFC roster at 20 years of age, dazzled in his second-round technical knockout victory over Justin Lawrence. The Hawaiian took charge with his reach before felling Lawrence with a wicked body shot 4:49 into the second round. Holloway has showcased improved takedown defense in each of his last two outings, along with the sharp boxing skills that first drew the interest of UFC talent evaluators. Phan, a skilled standup fighter in his own right, eked out a split decision over American Top Team’s Cole Miller at UFC on Fox 4.