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The Forward Roll: UFC on FOX 7 edition

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

As you scan through this edition of The Forward Roll, you will notice three major UFC on FOX 7 names missing from projections: lightweight champ Benson Henderson, heavyweight Daniel Cormier and lightweight Nate Diaz. The reasons for their omissions vary.

Henderson already has his marching orders. Just an hour after he squeaked by Gilbert Melendez, the champ was informed he would be fighting the winner of the UFC 160 matchup between Gray Maynard and T.J. Grant. That bout will probably happen sometime in the fall, and though it's no dream match, there is something to be said for having a clear direction forward. We know what lies ahead, what the stakes are for Maynard and Grant, and there is no need to speculate wildly on any other result. Focus and expectation are set.

That contrasts sharply from the futures of Cormier and Diaz. Even before they fought last weekend, both spoke of the possibility of shifting weight classes -- Cormier downward from heavyweight to 205, and Diaz upward from lightweight to 170. The interesting thing about that is that if they follow through, Cormier would be dropping after a win, and Diaz would be moving upwards on a loss. Usually, fighters take the opposite approach.

Cormier, though, would need time to properly get his body in range of a comfortable cut to 205. That might mean as much as 6-10 months, making it difficult to project an opponent for him in a fast-changing world. Diaz? Well, he's just hard to predict, period. He's liable to do anything, from staying at lightweight, to moving to 170, to following his brother into semi-retirement.

On to the future …

Gilbert Melendez
After losing an ultra-thin split-decision, does Melendez's stock take any type of hit? I say no. Regardless of the immediate reaction at the HP Pavilion, which was outrage, the fight was at best a tossup in terms of who won. Scores recorded by had media members tied 6-6 over a winner, and FightMetric had three of the fight's five rounds scored 10-10. Considering it was Melendez's first fight in almost a year, it's fair to wonder how much better he would have done if it came during the regular flow of his career. At worst, he proved that his longtime claim as No. 1 in the world was not that far off from the truth.
Prediction: He fights the winner of UFC 159's Jim Miller vs. Pat Healy matchup

Frank Mir
After decisive losses to two top five heavyweights, including one in a title shot, the future is a bit cloudy for Mir. Changing his training to include a full camp with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn is a good idea, but the true benefits of such a move aren't seen immediately. Mir has already faced most of the promotion's top heavyweights, so there are no obvious matchups for him at this precise moment. He may have to wait until a few future bouts shakeout to find his next foe.
Prediction: In the next month, Antonio Silva, Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt all compete. Should any of them lose, an opponent for Mir is born.

Josh Thomson
At age 34, and more than nine years removed from his last UFC win, Thomson -- long an undervalued fighter in his division -- began his title push in a most unexpected way. It's not a huge surprise that he beat Nate Diaz, but a knockout? Since that last octagon victory back in 2004, here is the list of guys he's KO'd: Adam Lynn and Ashe Bowman. That's it. Considering that Diaz, like his brother Nick, has gained a reputation for a granite chin, who saw that coming? It was certainly a show-stopper, and puts Thomson on the short list of contenders.
Prediction: He fights Diego Sanchez

Matt Brown
After suffering defeat at UFC 139 in Nov. 2011, Matt Brown had three straight losses in UFC bouts. The next week, it was reported that he was cut by the UFC. As it turned out, that report was erroneous. A year later, he was back on the chopping block again after losing to Seth Baczynski, marking losses in four of five. Who then, could have foreseen his current surge of five straight wins, including defeats of prized prospects Stephen Thompson and Jordan Mein? Brown keeps on pushing upward into the division of sharks.
Prediction: A matchup with Dan Hardy sounds fun, but with the Brit sidelined, we'll give him the Tyron Woodley-Jake Shields winner from UFC 161

Chad Mendes
Mendes has looked like a man on a mission since losing to Jose Aldo, reinventing himself as a knockout artist. His most recent win was the most impressive of those, of course, since his opponent Darren Elkins came into the fight on a nice streak of his own. Still, Mendes needed just 68 seconds to crush his dreams of contending. I can't imagine it will take more than one win to find his way back into a title bout.
Prediction: He faces his original UFC on FOX 7 opponent, Clay Guida

Joseph Benavidez
Benavidez is in a similar position as his Alpha Male teammate Mendes, with a title shot not too far enough in the rearview mirror to cloud it from the minds of most onlookers. Benavidez has won twice since that defeat, and in the immediate future, he'll probably have to wait out the expected title bout between champ Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Moraga, a matchup that was scuttled by Johnson's shoulder injury. But Benavidez isn't far off from another crack at it.
Prediction: He fights John Dodson

T.J. Dillashaw
After notching his fourth straight win, it appears that Dillashaw is knocking on the door of the UFC's top 10. That's a spot that's not warranted just yet. A closer look at his record shows little in the way of top-tier opponents, a matchmaking tactic the UFC has taken in a measured approach since his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter. It seems to have paid off, as Dillashaw's striking skills seem to have caught up with his wrestling abilities. While all signs are looking positive, the rest of the year should determine whether he achieves that ranking.
Prediction: He fights Yuri Alcantara, assuming Alcantara beats Iliarde Santos at UFC on FX 8

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