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Fortunes changes for five at UFC Fight Night 60

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

At first thought, UFC's Joe Silva asking Benson Henderson, coming off a two-fight losing streak, to take a short-notice fight against the far larger Brandon Thatch, may have been a desperate idea to save a main event. But it hardly seemed like the right thing for Henderson's career.

While the UFC analysts were talking about it being a no-win for Thatch and a no-lose for Henderson, because of the size difference, to the public, a third loss in a row would look like Henderson's days as a significant contender were over.

But the big difference in experience against top tier opponents, and craftiness, allowed Henderson to weather an early storm and put Thatch away in the fourth round. The performance was so impressive it was almost as if those losses are nearly erased, in a manner that a win over a fight in his own weight class wouldn't have accomplished.

But almost is the key word.

The problem is Henderson's last three losses were to Anthony Pettis, Rafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone, the champion top contender and No. 3 contender. The win totally reversed whatever harm the close Cerrone decision may have done, given many if not most thought Henderson won that fight. But with the champion and top contender, they were decisive first-round losses, and makes what should be an easy decision of what weight class he belongs at something far more difficult.

Henderson (22-5) is in the mix as a lightweight and a welterweight, as a name fighter with a history of at least being a usually effective television headliner. When the fight was over, he even called out Rory MacDonald, the No. 2 contender at welterweight. As good as Henderson came across, the problem that Thatch fight showed is just how small he was as a welterweight. It was one thing against a relatively inexperienced fighter who was used to finishing people early, and whose weakness on the ground was something Henderson had the ability to exploit if he could get it there. It's very different against the well-rounded top tier in the welterweight division, let alone MacDonald, a fighter in line for a championship shot.

Dana White didn't rain on Henderson's parade at first when the subject of a MacDonald fight was broached, but later nixed the idea, saying they had other plans for MacDonald.

MacDonald lost his scheduled fight with Hector Lombard on April 25 in Montreal when the latter tested positive for steroids. Champion Robbie Lawler is looking at fighting sometime after late May. Johny Hendricks, the former champion, first talked about for the shot at Lawler, is fighting March 14 against Matt Brown.

UFC is in a unique position due to injuries and timing. Every title on the roster with the exception of flyweight and bantamweight would look to be ready for a title defense during a period from late May through August. During that period there are four pay-per-view shows and one FOX show to fill. So the question becomes which titles go on what show, and what show the company feels Lawler's first title defense is most beneficial on.

Then the question becomes, provided Hendricks looks impressive in beating Brown, will he be ready for that date? If Hendricks loses, or even wins in lackluster fashion, or wins and gets hurt, MacDonald is clearly the guy. If not, MacDonald needs an opponent. For name value, MacDonald vs. Henderson works as a fight with well known names for any show.

But is the best move for Henderson, the guy who suggested it in the first place?

Henderson has been one of the top lightweights in the world since he captured the WEC belt in 2009. At his size, staying at lightweight makes the most sense. But it is a deep division and he'll probably need several wins in a row to get a title shot. With two losses to Pettis, the UFC is not going to be quick to make a third fight. And if dos Anjos or Cerrone end up as champion by the end of the year, he's also not the first guy to call.

Plus, he has no obvious next foe at lightweight, since he's fought nearly every key guy already, past Eddie Alvarez, his original opponent on Jan. 18 before Cerrone stepped in.

At welterweight, if he was to have gotten the MacDonald fight, a win there would have immediately put him in title consideration. It could be a shorter path, but it's a more dangerous one. Henderson on a good day can hang with any lightweight. Even though he beat Thatch, there was nothing in that fight that made one think he'd be able to beat MacDonald. I'd hate to see Henderson in with guys with the firepower of a Lawler or Hendricks, who have more than good enough wrestling not to fall into a ground trap.

Plus, fighting bigger guys, win or lose, seems to take time off ones career.

Saturday's show likely ended UFC's January streak of shows that did big business numbers. Aside from Henderson, there was no proven draw on the show. Thatch had two impressive first-round wins since his UFC arrival in 2013, but had never been in a marquee position, and injuries had kept him out of action the last 15 months.

Sometimes those shows provide great action with hungry fighters looking to make a name. But this seemed like a series of ordinary fights until the main event, which felt almost like a Japanese freak show fight given the size difference as they got into the cage. But the match was compelling, and saved an otherwise lackluster show.

But we did get a few interesting prospects to look at underneath who scored impressive wins, and one that won and probably didn't help himself. So let's look at Fortunes Changed For Five:

BRANDON THATCH - Thatch (11-2) got a lesson as to where he stands. The 29-year-old Thatch had, on paper, looked like somebody to pay attention to after ten straight first-round wins dating back to 2009, only one of which went even to the halfway point of round one. Guys with those kind of records with no top names on their resume look scary on film, but they are untested. Thatch had a little issue with tiring, and a big issue once the fight hit the ground.

On the plus side, he's a lot more famous having been in a main event against a guy with years as a headliner, and looked like he was beating him early. His ground game is something high level guys can exploit. But aside from Carlos Condit and Demian Maia, the top of the welterweight division isn't filled with guys with the submission skills of Henderson.

As far as a next opponent, Jordan Mein (29-10) or Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson (10-1), both look like exciting fights for him stylistically, and Thompson was originally his opponent for Saturday's show.

MAX HOLLOWAY - Holloway (12-3) was the rare case of someone winning a fight, and moments later, having his next fight announced in the building. Holloway will face Cub Swanson (21-6) on the FOX show on April 18 in Newark, N.J.

It's a tough fight for Holloway, who at 23, is still among the younger fighters in the promotion. It's a great fight should he win. Holloway came in at No. 13 in the featherweight contenders rankings, while Swanson was No. 5. A Holloway win on FOX would not only move him into a spot where he'd be in the top mix. Even a loss in a fight that, if it's the right kind of fight, could greatly benefit his name recognition if this gets on the main card.

NEIL MAGNY - Magny (14-3), coming off a 5-0 calendar year in 2014, the number of wins in a year something only Roger Huerta had done in the Zuffa era of UFC, made it No. 6 in a row with a dominant win over Kiichi Kunimoto.
But even with the wins, he hadn't cracked the top 15 coming into the fight coming into the weekend. He's yet to get that signature win and it looks like it's time to get that chance. There is a long list of potential foes, including Lorenz Larkin (15-4), who looked great in his welterweight debut last month, Rick Story (18-5), coming off a win over Gunnar Nelson, Tarec Saffiedine (15-4) and Thiago Alves (21-9), who beat Jordan Mein on Jan. 31.

KEVIN LEE - Lee (10-1), ahead of time called his fight with Michel Prezeres a showcase for him. Given Prezeres came in at 18-1, and got some early takedowns, that talk nearly backfired. But when it was over, it was prophetic, as in rounds two and three, the 22-year-old Lee was too quick and was able to beat Prezeres at every aspect of the game.

His lone career loss was last year to Al Iaquinta, but Iaquinta has grown to be a contender. Iaquinta's last victim, Joe Lauzon (24-10), is a name fighter where Lee's next bout would at least get some focus as opposed to taking on a lesser-known name.

DANIEL KELLY - Kelly came into Broomfield, Colo. with a few things going for him. He was undefeated, and had the shot at being a star in Australia, since he had made four Olympic teams in judo. The downside is he started MMA late because of his long judo career, and is now 37.

Kelly (9-0) beat Patrick Walsh, but in this case, he didn't help his cause with the win. Fans booed the fight, and two of the three rounds were close. He's a lock to be used when UFC returns to his native country, but he showed no signs of a guy to be built for stardom, or that they'd go out of their way to focus on in future shows in North America.

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