He doesn’t have the hype of the Jon Jones’s or Jose Aldo’s of the world, but Benson Henderson’s reign over the lightweight division has been just as impressive. The 29-year old easily dispatched Nate Diaz en route to a unanimous decision win this past December and will follow it up with a clash against Strikeforce-import Gilbert Melendez.
New to the Ladder is T.J. Grant, who is fresh off a knockout win over Matt Wiman at UFC on Fox 6 a few weeks back. Dropping off the ladder is Donald Cerrone, who in a very lethargic performance, was knocked out by Anthony Pettis on the same card.
Anthony Pettis was on the Ladder, but with a featherweight title matchup coming up in August, I’m removing him until he returns to 155. And once he does, he’ll be right back in the contender spot.
Champion: Benson Henderson
The champ is 6-0 in the UFC, yet is still relegated to headlining Fox cards. His upcoming bout with Gilbert Melendez will receive similar treatment. The one future fight that could be a solid PPV draw for Henderson would be a rematch with Anthony Pettis, who has moved down to 145 to face Aldo.
Contenders: Gilbert Melendez
Not fighting since May and getting an immediate title shot upon entering the UFC just shows how highly-touted Gilbert Melendez is among the lightweight division. “El Niño” will have his work cut out for him, but even with a loss, he’s a great addition for the UFC and the weight class; a tough bout for anyone.
In The Discussion: Jim Miller
Coming off a unanimous decision win over Joe Lauzon, Jim Miller is right back in the discussion for a title shot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: his only losses are to Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz. It’s tough to knock the New Jersey product. In April, he’ll square off against Pat Healy to move one step closer to the champion.
On The Rise: Khabib Nurmagomedov, T.J. Grant
Thiago Tavares was just recently outed as the fighter who tested positive for banned substances at UFC on FX 7. But even with the extra boost, the Brazilian was still throttled by Khabib Nurmagomedov in the first round. Nurmagomedov is in desperate need of a fight against a top opponent. With his 19-0 professional record and second finish since entering the UFC, he’s certainly earned it.
Since dropping to lightweight in October 2011, UFC veteran T.J. Grant has gone 4-0 with a finish by knockout and submission each. After alternating wins and losses in his six bouts at welterweight, Grant may have found his calling at 155. Like Nurmagomedov, the Canadian deserves to fight a top lightweight next.
Daron Cruickshank vs. John Makdessi – UFC 158 (March 16)
Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez – UFC on Fox 7 (April 20)
Rustam Khabilov vs. Yancy Medeiros – UFC 159 (April 27)
Jim Miller vs. Pat Healy – UFC 159 (April 27)