Is Gilbert Melendez the logical choice for the winner of Guida vs. Henderson? Photo by Esther Lin for Strikeforce.
UFC veterans Clay Guida and Ben Henderson couldn't have been pleased with the UFC's newest television partner, Fox, last week when it was confirmed by UFC President Dana White that their lightweight battle wouldn't make the network broadcast on Saturday's inaugural UFC on Fox card. Guida spoke publicly about the situation a couple of days later, stating the snub has motivated him to prove he can attract fans. Henderson said he was "a little bit bummed out" by the news, but ultimately came to the conclusion that winning is the only thing that matters.
Henderson has the right attitude in this unique situation. There isn't anything anyone can tell either fighter that will alleviate the disappointment of being denied access to the grand stage. Their highly-relevant showdown could determine the next title challenger in the UFC's lightweight division, yet through bad decision-making -- it's been shrouded in darkness.
Unfortunately, the assumption that the fight's outcome will determine who fights Frankie Edgar next was premature, and the UFC's inability to sell this fight to Fox executives almost assures it won't happen in the near future. When's the last time the UFC determined contention from a bout that wasn't featured on the main card of a pay-per-view, free event, or aired preliminary fight on cable? Start digging.
The strongest argument against my point is that the UFC's lightweight division doesn't have any opponents ready to step up to fight the winner of Guida vs. Henderson. Jim Miller, Melvin Guillard, and Anthony Pettis were derailed in their progression toward the top, leaving the winner of Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone at UFC 141 as the most logical choice.
Interestingly enough, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez has been heavily rumored to be on the slate to make the transition to the UFC after his title defense against Jorge Masvidal on December 17 in San Diego. If Melendez retains his title, which most fans expect, there's a very good chance he puts himself into immediate title contention for the UFC strap. Why not pit him against the winner of Guida vs. Henderson?
Of course, that suggestion hinges on what the UFC plans to do with Strikeforce. Will they keep Melendez as the Strikeforce lightweight champion if Zuffa keeps Strikeforce around? I imagine Melendez wouldn't be happy with the situation, and I struggle to see the value in keeping Strikeforce around without a change in the organization's goal. That's an argument for another day though.
Exposure is one of the keys to selling a title fight, and Guida vs. Henderson doesn't fit the formula if it's headlining the preliminary card on Facebook. When the UFC tries to sell a title fight off a dark match, it's going to cause a lot of blank stares and shoulder shrugs from casual fans who have no idea how the fight came to fruition. It's especially grim for a guy like Ben Henderson, who still isn't well-known by the UFC's casual fanbase.
Last week's news, in my mind, adds another step to the stairwell. The UFC must create a match-up that's promoted correctly and pushed as the #1 lightweight contender bout to fans. It makes too much sense, especially if we consider how poorly the division's upper-echelon has done in drawing in fans. My prediction? Guida vs. Henderson winner vs. Gilbert Melendez in early 2012.