By Adam Martin
MONTREAL — Many fans were disappointed with Lyoto Machida’s latest performance in the Octagon, but that won’t stop him from retaining his No. 1 contender position in the UFC light-heavyweight division.
The former UFC light-heavyweight champion recently defeated Dan Henderson in the co-main event of UFC 157 in what was described by many fans as a boring fight. Many fans and observers also believed that Henderson deserved to win the fight, and that because of the fight’s tepid pace and mild scoring controversy, Machida shouldn’t automatically be next in line for the next 205-pound title shot.
That’s because young Swede Alexander Gustafsson lurks out there. The Mauler, who fights Gegard Mousasi at UFC on FUEL TV 9, has won six fights in a row and is 7-1 in the UFC with the sole loss coming to Phil Davis in his second UFC fight (it’s also his only career loss).
So despite The Dragon’s recent win over Henderson, there are many fans and observers who believe that if Gustafsson defeats the highly-touted Mousasi, he should leapfrog Machida in the race to fight the winner of the UFC 159 main event between divisional kingpin Jon Jones and title challenger Chael Sonnen.
But not UFC president Dana White, who said that Machida is the No. 1 contender because he beat Henderson, who was supposed to fight Jones for the belt at the cancelled UFC 151 event.
“He beat Dan Henderson. He beat him, even if Dan thinks Machida ran from him,” White told a group of reporters following Saturday's UFC 158 in Montreal. “You have to be able to cut him off and finish him. If a guy is too elusive, you have to be able to cut him off and stop him. Dan didn’t do it, and Dan lost the fight.”
Gustafsson, 26, has defeated Mauricio (Shogun) Rua, Thiago Silva, Vladimir Matyushenko, Matt Hamill, James Te Huna, Cyrille Diabate and Jared Hamman in the UFC to cement his place among the top five light-heavyweight fighters in the world.
Machida, meanwhile, has defeated Henderson and Ryan Bader (via KO) in his last two fights to bounce back from his submission loss to Jones at UFC 140 in what was his chance to recapture the belt he won from Rashad Evans at UFC 98 and lost to Shogun at UFC 113. He is adamant that he is he ready for a rematch with Jones, and promises to take the title from him.
So even though Gustafsson could have seven wins as compared to Machida’s two, he could still be behind him, which doesn’t seem all that fair. But this is the UFC and sometimes its title fights don’t make sense from a rankings point of view. Case in point, Sonnen vs. Jones, considering Sonnen is coming off a TKO loss to Anderson Silva.
If Mousasi is stopped for the first time in his career, it will be difficult to deny Gustafsson the title shot, but if White remains true to his word, it will be Machida who’s next in line.
Other news and notes from White’s post-fight press conference:
-- White remarked that Montreal is one of the UFC’s top markets, drawing gates in excess of $3 million the last two shows (UFC 154 and UFC 158), both of which were headlined by UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. However, the UFC president said that St-Pierre’s next fight would likely be somewhere else, possibly even in Las Vegas. The long-time champion is expected to face Johny Hendricks sometime this fall.
-- The UFC president was asked about a possible event in Ottawa, but he said he had no idea when the UFC was targeting a stop in our nation’s capital.
-- White said that Jake Ellenberger, who knocked out Nate Marquardt on the main card, is one of the top welterweights in the division and will get a huge fight his next time out. He also said that Rick Story, who is the only man to defeat Hendricks in MMA and who knocked out Quinn Mulhern on the prelims, was back “in the mix” at 170 pounds.
-- After announcing earlier Saturday night that The Ultimate Fighter season 18 will feature both male and female bantamweight fighters living in a co-ed house, with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey coaching opposite the winner of the TUF 17 finale matchup between Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano, White also mentioned that the TUF house has cameras in every room including the bathroom, meaning fans could be in store for some Big Brother-esque shenanigans this fall. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” White said.
-- The UFC boss said that Jordan Mein, the pride of Lethbridge, Alta., who picked up a massive TKO victory over veteran Dan Miller on the UFC 158 undercard, really caught his eye and said that the young Canadian was one of the welterweight prospects the UFC is looking to push. “He looked unbelievable,” White said. “He looked great. These Strikeforce guys are so hungry.”
-- White also said that the UFC will make a visit to Boston sometime in 2013. The UFC hasn’t visited there since August 2010, when the UFC 118 event was held at the TD Garden.
-- The UFC will hold another Fan Expo in Las Vegas, this summer that will coincide with UFC 162.
Adam Martin has blogged for theScore.com and is a regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s MMA section. Follow him on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.