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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 79

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Benson Henderson has a wide variety of interesting opponents in multiple promotions and different weight classes now that he's a free agent.

Lili Troncale-USA TODAY Sports

Right after Benson Henderson was awarded a close split-decision win over Jorge Masvidal on Saturday in Seoul, South Korea, in a show built around him, he took off his UFC gloves and left them in the Octagon.

Henderson, who just turned 32, is now without a contract. He's got some key decisions to make, both regarding his future weight class and where he's fighting next, although he's not in complete control of the latter.

Ultimately, the decision on where he's fighting next is in the hands of the UFC, which can choose to match whatever outside offer he can get, whether it comes from Bellator, Rizin or One. This could lead to a reverse Eddie Alvarez.

When Alvarez gambled on free agency, he was offered a great deal on pay-per-view points that, had his debut gone as planned, would have made him seven figures plus for his first fight in the organization. But Bellator, which had never done a pay-per-view show, agreed to match the deal, only matching UFC's pay-per-view points on a show (Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz) that did nearly 1 million buys with the same percentage on a Bellator show, which kicked in at 200,000 buys. It meant matching the deal amounted to a seven-figure loss of income for Alvarez.

Naturally, Alvarez was furious, and eventually ended up in the UFC in an out-of-court settlement.

In this case, if the UFC matches every term in the Bellator deal, it could be worth substantially less money for Henderson. Going to Bellator, he would be able to get sponsors. Since most of the top fighters are shut out of a key part of the sponsorship market, the week of the fight, Bellator fighters are competing for whatever is left of that market. Henderson, with his UFC pedigree and multiple main events on pay-per-views and shows on FOX that have done very strong numbers, would walk into Bellator as one of its best-known fighters. And unlike the people ahead of him on that list, like Kimbo Slice, Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock or Tito Ortiz, Henderson is in his prime and would have a very good shot at not just being a champion in Bellator, but he has several more years in serious main events.

There have been three notable fighters in similar positions, but not exactly the same. They were Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson, and Phil Davis. Melendez's Bellator offer being matched enabled him to get perhaps the strongest UFC contract in the lightweight division at the time when they matched the Bellator numbers to keep him from leaving. Thomson gambled on letting his deal expire, and lost his last three fights. The UFC didn't offer him a new contract, but that was just as well, given his long relationship with Scott Coker. It's enabled him to be a featured headliner and title contender, a role he was no longer going to be in UFC. Davis got a Bellator offer, and even though he was one of the top UFC light heavyweights, the UFC decided not to match the offer.

Henderson has some market value, in the sense he's a former lightweight champion who was never a pay-per-view draw, but has fared very well as a headliner on television cards. His title defense against Nate Diaz was the third-biggest number for a UFC show on FOX, with 4.4 million viewers (a lot of that was also due to B.J. Penn fighting on free television). Another main event, against Thomson, did 3.2 million viewers, again well over the usual average. Even against opponents with little name value, Brandon Thatch and Rustam Khabilov, he did well above average numbers for FS 1 Fight Nights. His only bad number, was his surprising defeat at the time to current champion Rafael dos Anjos, which did 689,000 viewers.

He's the kind of fighter who would be perfect for Bellator, in the sense he's still in his prime and has proven market value, and can still fight at a main event level. And for that reason, the UFC may not want to lose him.

Unlike Melendez, who at the time of his free agency, was a legitimate top contender, Henderson is in a weird state. He's fought his last two fights at welterweight, and while 2-0, with wins against good fighters, he is still small for the division. He outright looked tiny next to Thatch. Against Masvidal, his opponent Saturday, there was no size issue, but Masvidal was also a longtime lightweight moving up.

But at lightweight, he's got losses to the top three stars, a quick knockout loss to Dos Anjos, a recent decision loss to top contender Donald Cerrone which he easily could have gotten the decision in, and two losses to Antony Pettis. His move up in weight was because he didn't look like he was going to be able to get a lightweight title shot.

In Bellator, at lightweight, Henderson's appearing there will strengthen what is already the company's best division, with champion Will Brooks as well as Michael Chandler, Thomson Patricky "Pitbull" Freire, Brandon Girtz, Dave Jansen and Marcin Held. At welterweight, he'd be facing bigger guys, but the depth is nowhere close, with champion Andrey Koreshkov. He could walk in and get a title shot at welterweight, that he'd be favored to win, but would have far less interesting opponents.

It's harder to know how much interest One or Rizin would have in him. His ethnicity helps in One, which promotes in Asia, since Henderson is half-Korean and in that country, the fans loved him. He would have a built in rival in Ben Askren, giving that company it's highest worldwide profile fight in its history. But that company does not have a history of paying the type of numbers Henderson is likely to be offered elsewhere. Rizin is harder to figure, as it's too early to know how stable it is. Plus, with the Rizin/Bellator alliance, he'd likely be a Bellator fighter who they could send to a Rizin big show, similar to King Mo Lawal in December.

Let's look at how fortunes changed for five stars on Saturday.

BENSON HENDERSON - What is next for Henderson (23-5) is tricky. If he is taking multiple offers, that could delay his next fight - provided the UFC matches the best offer. And then the question becomes what weight class he wants to compete in.

If we go with the idea he's staying at welterweight, and if previously scratched fights with Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley and Rory MacDonald vs. Hector Lombard take place shortly, Henderson's best next opponent would be Dong Hyun Kim, who scored a big win in Saturday' co-main, or Matt Brown, the latter of which could make for a solid FS 1 main event..

JORGE MASVIDAL - Masvidal (29-10), has been a hard luck fighter of late, losing a split decision to Henderson in a close fight, and another to Al Iaquinta in a fight he probably deserved the win in, so he could easily be on a six-fight win streak.

Kelvin Gastelum (11-2) or Erick Silva (18-6) would be good tests, because it'll also show if Masvidal is better off at welterweight, or at lightweight.

DONG HYUN KIM - Kim (21-3-1, 1 no contest) blew through late replacement Dominic Waters to give the local fans something big to react to. If Henderson stays with UFC, he'd make a good opponent given that most of the top welterweights are already booked up. If not, Matt Brown would be a good opponent as it's a fight that works for both men, as would Gastelum or Neil Magny (17-4).

YOSHIHIRO AKIYAMA - Akiyama was the biggest crowd favorite on Saturday, a legitimate mainstream media star in South Korea, where he's known as Choo Sung-hoon.  Fans were chanting his name constantly during his split decision loss to Alberto Mina, and the biggest negative reaction of the night was when Mina was announced as the winner.

Given how badly Akiyama dominated the third round, it felt like a robbery at first. But the reality is that Mina clearly won the second round and may have won the fight outright if the round had even ten more seconds, even though Akiyama dominated the first four minutes plus of the round.  So it was all about the first round, and that was close enough to go either way. It was really an example of how scoring by rounds doesn't always get you the correct winner, because overall, start-to-finish, Akiyama was in control most of the fight and nearly got a 10-8 third round, and still lost.

At 40, his days as a serious contender are over. His value is being on shows in Japan, where he's remembered for being in big fights from 2004 (where he submitted former world heavyweight boxing champion Francois Botha) to 2008. His three fights over the last four years were all in Japan, or this one, in South Korea. His next fight is likely to be when the company returns to one of those markets, and until that date is clear, it's hard to know who will be the type of opponent to make for an interesting fight.

SEO HEE HAM - Ham (16-6), who fought in the fourth match on the show, got the show rocking, setting the stage for the rest of the action-packed show beating Cortney Casey (4-3) via superior stamina in rounds two and three and being awarded the Fight of the Night bonus.

The obvious problem with Ham is that she's tiny for the strawweight division. But there is no atomweight division in UFC, and when it comes to the difference between 105 and 115 pounds, at that size, ten pounds is a lot. Ham at 105 was one of the best in the world. But at 115, she's bound to be in the pack.

A good opponent, because they are both about the same size, is another transplanted atomweight, Michelle Waterson (13-4), who was injured and had to pull out of her fight with Tecia Torres on Dec. 12.