The UFC light heavyweight champion will get closer to a clear cut top contender on February 23, 2013. Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida will meet at UFC 157 in a battle of former Strikeforce and UFC champions in hopes of providing the UFC with an undisputed number one contender.
This fight had been rumored for awhile yet the UFC appeared hesitant to pull the trigger. Henderson’s time table for returning has always been an issue as multiple reports indicated various dates in which he could return. Machida has been idle since the Bader win and with champion Jon Jones already booked for April the UFC opted to move forward with its two top contenders.
Where this gets real muddy is that Shogun Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson will take place shortly on the next UFC on FOX special. UFC president Dana White has indicated that the winner of that fight would be first in line for a UFC light heavyweight title fight. I would have to imagine that the winner of Henderson vs. Machida would get priority with the winner of Rua vs. Gustafsson being the backup should the new contender face a long layoff due to injury.
To make matters even more complex there is the Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva fight hanging over the division. The UFC is obsessed with making this fight in 2013. If Jones defeats Sonnen he won’t be able to take another title fight and the Silva fight before the end of the year. If Silva vs. GSP doesn’t happen, I could see the UFC holding Silva out until after Jones vs. Sonnen and doing whatever they can to make that fight happen. If that is the case you could be looking at a scenario where nobody is challenging for the UFC light heavyweight title in 2013 other than Chael Sonnen.
This is a really complicated fight. I have a hard time with Henderson having to take another fight after earning a title shot when you are now looking at two challengers in a row who were handed shots without merit. I put the whole UFC 151 blame on Henderson for failing to tell the UFC about his injury and I think this is a backhanded punishment from the company.
As for Machida that is another tough one. I never felt that he earned the title shot in the first place. A win over Ryan Bader gets you a title shot? Yet for whatever reason a giddy Dana White proclaimed Machida the new top contender to the world on FOX. Machida declining short notice fights with Jones put him in this position. I don’t blame Machida for turning down arguably the last title shot he’ll receive in a long time due to short notice. Putting Machida back in a fight almost makes White look foolish after calling the guy the top dog in the division in front of a national television audience.