The UFC light heavyweight division is perhaps the most talented the UFC owns. The talent difference from light heavyweight champion Jon Jones compared to everybody else has clearly been evident, though.

Jones has dominated in his few title defenses and has made seasoned UFC veterans look like they were fighting for the very first time. Jones gets that chance once again after he and Chael Sonnen complete coaching duties for The Ultimate Fighter 17.

In April, these two will go at it, and from there the UFC has many options to look at for the next No. 1 contender spot.

The guy who should, but not necessarily will, get the next title shot is Dan Henderson. Henderson fights Lyoto Machida on Feb. 2 next year, but has been out of action since November of 2011. Machida could very well take the fight due to Henderson’s ring rust, but does he deserve a title shot?

In that fight, the only guy who should get the title shot with a win is Henderson. Machida hasn’t won enough bouts since Jones fought off a first round by Machida that seemed to puzzle the champion. Jones’ choke out of Machida will live forever in the minds of people who watched an unconscious Machida drop to the ground after refusing to tap.

Henderson deserves it simply based on the fact that until he was injured, he was the No. 1 contender. He, and not Sonnen, should be fighting Jones next. Henderson earned his title shot off another possible No. 1 contender in Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Rua is set to fight Alexander Gustafsson next weekend, and both fighters could be considered close to a title shot, especially Gustafsson. Much like Machida, Shogun was dominated by Jones when they fought. However, despite the fact that Shogun is at title contention levels, he shouldn’t be there based off his merits. Shogun has beaten Brandon Vera—who granted looked really good in their fight—and if he beats Gustafsson, that’s still only two wins that separate him from his last loss. Shogun’s last loss was a hotly contested back-and-forth brawl between with Henderson, but Shogun should go through at least one more fight to prove that he is ready to perhaps take another beating at the hands of Jones.

For Gustafsson, his last loss was to Phil Davis, and that was followed by five wins for the Swede. Gustafsson has pulled off some big victories since then that include Vladimir Matyushenko, Matt Hamill and Thiago Silva. So, in that light, Gustafsson has stepped up when he faced better competition. He is just a prospect, though, and if he does get a title shot, it could be stunting the growth of his future by pushing him back to the end of the line for another title shot by pole vaulting him to the front now with a win over Shogun.

Then we have two guys who could contend, but won’t just yet—or perhaps not at all.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson fights Glover Teixeira in his next fight at UFC on FOX 6 in January. Jackson is on a two-fight losing streak, and one win over someone with hype, but no substance yet, shouldn’t earn him a title shot. Jackson did take Jones deeper than he had ever been, but Rampage isn’t back at the front of the line with just one win, especially after two straight losses including one against Ryan Bader that wasn’t great at all.

The final guy on this list is Gegard Mousasi. Mousasi is a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and is seen as the best light heavyweight prospect outside of the UFC. He faces Mike Kyle in his next fight, which comes on the Strikeforce finale show, and while Mousasi may want Shogun, he isn’t ready for that quite yet. Mousasi hasn’t faced anyone of top-level quality since he fought Muhammad Lawal. Also, Mousasi is only two fights removed from a draw with Keith Jardine where he failed to finish off Jardine despite having multiple chances to do so. On top of that, he let Jardine rally back after what looked to be a dominant first round from Mousasi.

With all that in mind, my prediction is that Henderson will get the next title shot.

Jones and Sonnen fight in April, Henderson fights in February and I think Henderson certainly takes the fight against Machida via hard-fought decision. The timing is just perfect and Henderson is clearly next in line after being jilted out of his title shot. Everybody wants to see Henderson versus Jones, and there is a good chance we get that match-up sometime next summer or in early autumn.

Photo: Dan Henderson (Sherdog)

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.