UFC Fight Night 49: Benson Henderson vs. Rafael dos Anjos Preview
Imagine this pay-per-view card:
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao
Michael Bisping vs. Cung Le
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tyron Woodley
Ben Henderson vs. Rafael dos Anjos
Mike Pyle vs. Jordan Mein
That’s what you would get if you scrapped the two Fight Nights on Saturday and assimilated the bouts into next week’s UFC 177. (Note that not one of UFC 177′s actual undercard bouts make the cut.) Instead, the UFC will utilize a divide and decline strategy with three separate cards and a projected* sub 200k-buyrate.
* – Projected using the sophisticated process called “my best guess.”
Saturday’s Fight Night (informally, the 49th) looks like the best on paper with a legitimate main event between two top-five fighters and a good-enough undercard. Henderson and dos Anjos could support a PPV in one of the opening spots, but a Fox Sports 1 headliner makes sense given the weight class they fight in and their relative drawing power.
Lightweight’s about to have a good/bad problem. Champion Anthony Pettis will have gone a full year without fighting since August 31st, and he won’t return until sometime late this year after a stint coaching The Ultimate Fighter with Gilbert Melendez. His absence has left the division to marinate in the interim, and we’re heading toward a situation where three guys will have legitimate cases to fight for the title.
First, there’s the winner of Saturday night’s main event. The UFC ranking currently list Henderson as the number one challenger. A win for Henderson would make his third straight since losing the title to Pettis, and his third consecutive win over top-ten caliber opposition. Dos Anjos would obviously benefit from a win over the number-one guy, the 7-1 record he’s accumulated in the UFC since 2012 includes an impressive list of 155ers.
That “1” in dos Anjos’s loss column came at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov, however. Nurmagomedov is undefeated in 22 pro MMA fights, including six in the UFC. A tear in his right meniscus took him out of a rumored fight with Donald Cerrone at UFC 178 (more on that in a moment), but should only keep him out of action for six months. If he returns in January, it’s possible for him get a fight in before taking on the winner of Pettis/Melendez. Should Henderson lose, he should move up to number two in the rankings behind Melendez, giving him the best argument as next-in-line.
But! UFC 178 throws a giant wrench into things. Rumors swirled that Bellator would release Eddie Alvarez from his contract, allowing the Bellator champ to take on Cerrone at UFC 178. Those plans appeared lost when the UFC scheduled Cerrone against Bobby Green. But the Green was the guy outside looking in when the lawyers finally figured out Alvarez’s release, allowing the UFC to make the switcheroo on the fly.
Neither can has as strong as case as Henderson (with a win) or Nurmagomedov (injury notwithstanding), but we’re grading minutiae here. Cerrone’s finished four straight fights since losing to dos Anjos last August, and that includes names like Evan Dunham, Edson Barboza, and Jim Miller. A win over Alvarez would give him one of the most impressive runs at 155 pounds in UFC history.
Alvarez is the newcomer, but a 4-1 stretch with wins over Pat Curran, Shinya Aoki, Patricky Freire, and Michael Chandler is about as good as you can get in the current UFC-dominated landscape. Plus, the UFC may want to capitalize on the name value he brings given his near-two-year drama with Bellator. Plus, they’ll want to capitalize on their investment if they signed Alvarez to a deal worth even half as much as they offered him last year.
It’s an exciting time in the lightweight division. As long as Anthony Pettis stays healthy, anyway.
MORE LIKE DULLSA, AMIRITE?
Saturday’s card is the UFC’s first return to Tulsa since UFC 4 all the way back in December of 1994. That event featured the following:
-Royce Gracie’s third and final UFC tournament victory, and his 11th straight victory by submission.
-The MMA debut of Dan Severn, who reached the finals with wins over Anthony Macias and Marcus Bossett.
-The MMA debut of Guy Mezger, who defeated Jason Fairn in an alternate bout.
-The first pairing of Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick.
-To that point, the largest prize awarded to the tournament’s winner: $64,000.
-The last UFC event before a championship belt was introduced.
Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter.