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The UFC's lightweight limbo has become a time-honored tradition

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Another Benson Henderson fight, another judging controversy. Only this time one had nothing to do with the other.

Howard Hughes, not the dead tycoon but an actual breathing judge on Saturday’s first card in Macau, was made to believe he wasn’t a very good arbiter just two fights into UFC Fight Night 48. The UFC, acting as its own commission overseas, relieved Hughes of his duties for incompetence in judging the Royston Wee-Yao Zhikui and Milana Dudieva-Elizabeth Phillips’ bouts.

This became the latest unprecedented MMA act to throw its chroniclers into a tizzy. All week UFC shakers talked about the Venetian in Macau doing so many billions of dollars of gambling business per annum that a mid-event judge swap seemed…curious. More curious still because Hughes was announced as a judge on the Fight Pass ethercast for the main event between Cung Le and Michael Bisping.

Then, something like 16 hours later in Tulsa, Oklahoma, former champion Benson Henderson got hammered with a left hand that buckled his legs. Rafael dos Anjos delivered it, right after he slammed home a knee on Henderson’s chin. The end was swift, surprising and -- like most Henderson fights -- mildly controversial. Henderson was gathering his wits when referee John McCarthy sat on him and waved Dos Anjos off.  Early? Didn’t look like it to me, but judgment calls are always going to be debatable. Just ask poor Howard Hughes, who was forced to the over-crowded concession stands in Macau to trade his scorecards for some popcorn.

It only takes a weekend of fights to be reminded that none of us know nothing about nothing.

What we do know is that Dos Anjos' victory over Henderson shakes up the UFC’s lightweight division, a division that traditionally functions in a constant state of chaos. Or dysfunctions, depending on how you squint.  For a long time it was Frankie Edgar and his run of rematches -- against B.J. Penn, Gray Maynard and then Henderson -- bottle-necking things at the top. That meant all the top contenders of the day were left knocking each other off with the carrot forever dangling out of reach. Henderson got things moving during his run after doing away with Edgar finally, but when he lost to Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 in August of last year, the division halted again.

Henderson has now fought three times since losing the belt. A year after taking that belt, Pettis has yet to defend it. He was hurt, then he was plucked from the field of competition to coach opposite Gilbert Melendez on The Ultimate Fighter 20. Melendez was given this placement as part of a new contract, a contract that spurred his disgruntled training partner Nate Diaz to pluck himself from the field of contenders and pout. Now Melendez and Pettis are tentatively slated to meet in early December, though nothing is official.

Meanwhile, the lightweight limbo, which by now is a very real thing, continues on. If ever there was a division with bad feng shui, it’s at 155 pounds. Henderson was already a purgatory contender, having lost to champion Pettis twice, so a win over Dos Anjos would have merely kept him afloat as he waited out a sea change. Dos Anjos, who was ranked No. 5, now leapfrogs Henderson, but where that leaves him is anybody’s guess. Melendez-Pettis is four months away (barring the unforeseen). That means RDA, who is now 13-3 in the UFC, will have to fight again.

But against who? I lobbed the idea of Dos Anjos and Bobby Green on Twitter on Saturday night, and that was met with a range of responses from "Sure why not?" to "That’s a step down for Dos Anjos" to "Go to bed, Chuck." All fair points.

The truth is, I don’t freaking know. Green has won eight fights in a row, and is 4-0 in the UFC. He is coming off a split decision over Josh Thomson, who is ranked No. 6. The people above Dos Anjos in those rankings are either occupied, hurt or otherwise disposed. Melendez has Pettis, Khabib Nurmagomedov is on the shelf with an ACL, and Donald Cerrone is welcoming Eddie Alvarez into the fold at UFC 178.

Thomson just lost to Green, and Jim Miller lost to Cerrone. Myles Jury is slated to fight Takanori Gomi in Japan next month, and Michael Johnson is coming back from an injury. Jorge Masvidal is fighting James Krause at UFC 178. There’s a colony of underneath intrigues from there, from Edson Barboza to Ross Pearson to Rustam Khabilov on down.

But nobody can get a title shot because title shots can’t be gotten right now. Only thing the pool of lightweights can do is keep the bloody war of attrition in motion until Pettis defends his belt, or coughs it up to Melendez. Just like when Edgar held the belt, the 155-pound class is a potluck of would-be contenders, of which Rafael dos Anjos is now a member. It’s mutiny.

What’s next for Dos Anjos? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say a 17th fight in the UFC, and leave it at that.