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The Forward Roll: UFC on FOX 5 edition

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was said several times last Saturday night that there was a symbolic changing of the guard at play. With young guns Rory MacDonald and Alexander Gustafsson polishing off B.J. Penn and Mauricio Rua, respectively, it was a logical storyline to sell, and a sad one for many longtime observers of the sport to digest.

Just days from his 34th birthday, Penn's career could be over, yet there has to be some part of all of us that wonders if he'll try one more time while moving back to his natural lightweight class. As weight-cutting techniques continue to evolve, Penn gives up more and more size to welterweights, and in his last two fights, MacDonald overpowered him while Nick Diaz out-conditioned him. Against the division's best, it's hard to see how he'll remain competitive.

At lightweight, where he's not so outsized, perhaps he can put up a better fight, but that's only if he wants to go through shedding the extra weight and going through another long camp. He'll likely take a while to think about things, but the prevailing thought is that we just saw the last of a legend.

Rua, though, is expected to fight on. Just 31 years old, he's been competing for a decade and has participated in his share of wars, violent battles that may have taken years of the back end of his career. Just 5-5 in his last 10 fights, Rua isn't anywhere close to title consideration, but then again he's never been particularly focused on winning belts. After three straight grinds though it's logical to wonder exactly how much longer he can go on with his particular kind of style.

On to the predictions…

Benson Henderson
After two close fights with Frankie Edgar, Henderson produced the kind of performance he needed to silence remaining doubters, dominating a dangerous opponent throughout five rounds of action. As far as what might come next, there are a couple of possibilities. Gilbert Melendez is one, but he's still injured, so he might not be ready when he's needed. In January, Anthony Pettis fights Donald Cerrone, and with a win, could set up a rematch of the fight that launched the famous "Showtime Kick." Eddie Alvarez could be on the way soon, too.
Prediction: The UFC waits to see if Pettis wins, and if he does, we get the rematch

Nate Diaz
After strong performances in his three fights since returning to lightweight, Diaz was almost completely shut down, getting out-struck 124-30 in significant strikes according to FightMetric's count. He also allowed eight takedowns, and that continues to be his kryptonite. Until that issue is sufficiently addressed, he'll continue to be susceptible to wrestlers.
Prediction: He faces the loser of January's Matt Wiman vs. T.J. Grant match

Alexander Gustafsson
Capturing his sixth straight win, the lanky Swede proved he's a legit top contender, but he's likely to be saddled by the same issue affecting Johny Hendricks at welterweight: the waiting game. Champ Jon Jones isn't fighting until late April, so Gustafsson would be on the sidelines until probably August if he wants to wait. He isn't likely to get the opportunity as the UFC is certain to offer him a match first.
Prediction: He faces the winner of UFC 156's Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira match

Mauricio Rua
"Shogun" likely ain't going anywhere, not to retirement, and not to middleweight. He'll soldier on and war on, and our level of concern for him will continue to grow. In his last five fights, he's had four hellacious battles, hit 128, 89, 113 and 102 times, respectively. Only his UFC 134 KO of Forrest Griffin went smoothly. Rua deserves a bit of a rest, but then, it's right back in the fire.
Prediction: He waits until January's UFC on FOX 6 results, then faces either Ryan Bader or Quinton "Rampage" Jackson if the UFC is able to re-sign him.

Rory MacDonald
The young Canadian is fast turning into a superstar with his flashy dressing, serial-killer disposition and dominant performances in the cage. He continues to say that he doesn't want to fight teammate Georges St-Pierre while climbing the ladder two rungs at a time, but we continue to ask the relevant question: What happens when he reaches the top?
Prediction: He wants a Carlos Condit rematch, and Condit's management says they're all for it. Let's do it.

Matt Brown
About one year ago, Brown was in danger of being cut from the UFC after losing four of five. Now he's won four straight, all since the start of 2012. The win over Mike Swick was no question his biggest to date, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep this dream roll moving in the right direction.
Prediction: I advocated this matchup back then, and I still think it makes sense now: Brown vs. Dan Hardy.

Yves Edwards
Fifteen years into his career, Edwards is still relevant in MMA's biggest promotion, an amazing feat considering the average career length of top-flight performers. His KO over Jeremy Stephens -- which marked the first KO loss of Stephens' career, no less -- made him 4-2 since his return to the UFC. After nearly a year on the sidelines for various reasons, expect Edwards to get back in the cage quickly next time around.
Prediction: He faces the winner of the TUF 16 Finale's Jamie Varner vs. Melvin Guillard fight

Daron Cruickshank
That was quite a beating Cruickshank put on Henry Martinez before finishing him with a second-round head kick. There's no reason to rush him, so a logical next step would be to match him up with another prospect who just put on an exciting match.
Prediction: He faces Abel Trujillo

Dennis Siver
The featherweight division needs contenders, and Siver has answered the call since moving into the weight category with two straight wins. That said, he probably needs one more decisive victory to move into the No. 1 contender slot.
Prediction: He faces the surging Cub Swanson