Josh Barnett, a former UFC champion, is back in the mix. | Ed Mulholland/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Anthony Pettis may desire a champion-versus-champion super fight with featherweight boss Jose Aldo, but he has plenty of business to tend to in his own division.
Pettis became the sixth lightweight titleholder in Ultimate Fighting Championship history, as he submitted Benson Henderson with a slick first-round armbar in the UFC 164 main event on Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Henderson verbally surrendered 4:31 into round one, his reign over at 552 days.
“Smooth” had designs on avenging his first loss to Pettis -- a bitter unanimous decision defeat under the World Extreme Cagefighting banner in December 2010. His chief rival had other ideas. Henderson tried to wear down the challenger in the clinch and was effective doing so for a time. However, a rapid succession of crackling body kicks from Pettis seemed to unnerve the champion. Henderson later assumed top position after an attempted hand-plant kick from “Showtime,” settling in the Milwaukee native’s guard. Moments later, his arm was trapped hopelessly in Pettis’ clutches, his grip on the UFC lightweight crown lost.
Afterward, Pettis called for a bout with Aldo, the man he was scheduled to challenge at 145 pounds at UFC 163 before an injury altered the plan. With that, T.J. Grant groaned.
Grant was Henderson’s original opponent, but a concussion forced the surging Canadian to withdraw from the bout and opened the door for Pettis. Grant has done nothing to relinquish his hold on the No. 1 contender claim at 155 pounds and, if healthy, deserves the first crack at the newly minted champion. The 29-year-old has rattled off five consecutive victories and steamrolled Gray Maynard in a title eliminator at UFC 160 in May. A Pettis-Aldo showdown can wait.
Henderson’s immediate future may prove a bit more problematic on the matchmaking front. The MMA Lab representative has already faced and beaten many of the top lightweights, including Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller. That leaves Maynard as perhaps the most logical choice for Henderson on the rebound.
In the wake of UFC 164 “Henderson vs. Pettis 2,” here are five other matchups that ought to be made:
Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne: Barnett was flawless in his first appearance inside the Octagon in more than a decade. The 35-year-old former champion wrecked Frank Mir in a ruthless and relentless clinch, battering him with punches, knees and elbows. Barnett folded Mir with a close-quarters knee strike a little less than two minutes into the first round, securing his 10th win in 11 outings and establishing a strong foothold in the division. Browne banked the most significant victory of his career at UFC Fight Night 26, where he knocked out Alistair Overeem with a front kick and follow-up punches.
Chad Mendes vs. Nik Lentz: No one with a straight face can deny Mendes’ place as the world’s No. 2 featherweight, and no one -- save Ricardo Lamas -- would balk at a rematch between the Team Alpha Male ace and Aldo. In reality, though, Mendes finds himself behind Lamas in the 145-pound pecking order and may have to wait his turn. If that proves to be the case, he could spend his time picking off would-be contenders. American Top Team’s Lentz has looked like a new man since downshifting to featherweight, posting wins over Eiji Mitsuoka, Diego Nunes and Hacran Dias.
Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem: By the time Mir competes again, somewhere in the neighborhood of two years will have elapsed since he last had his arm raised. The 34-year-old former champion finds himself in a precarious position, a big-ticket attraction on the first three-fight losing streak of his career. Mir immediately protested his technical knockout loss to Barnett, but whether one agrees with referee Rob Hinds’ decision or not, the writing was on the wall. Overeem finds himself in a similar position after suffering embarrassing knockouts against Browne and Antonio Silva.
Dustin Poirier vs. Darren Elkins: Poirier bounced back from his unanimous decision loss to Cub Swanson at UFC on Fuel TV 7, cruising past Roufusport’s Erik Koch. Still only 24, the Lafayette, La., native remains one of the more intriguing young talents in the featherweight division, with a well-rounded repertoire and the toughness to match. Elkins has hovered around the top 10 for some time now and made a substantial move at UFC Fight Night 27, where he took care of business against former Shooto and Sengoku champion Hatsu Hioki. The 29-year-old Duneland Vale Tudo representative has quietly compiled a 7-2 mark in the UFC.
Tim Elliott vs. Ian McCall: Elliott was in prime form against Team Tiger Schulmann’s Louis Gaudinot, as he punished the former Ring of Combat champion for 15 minutes. According to FightMetric figures, the rugged 26-year-old Grindhouse MMA product outlanded Gaudinot 270 to 41 in total strikes, secured six takedowns, passed guard six times and attempted two submissions. Once regarded as the world’s premier flyweight, McCall picked up his first UFC victory on Aug. 3, outpointing Iliarde Santos.