Justin Gaethje (R) (Lucas Noonan/WSOF)

Forget Henderson vs. Belfort: MMA Trilogies That Need to Happen

Some of the best and classic things in life come in threes. The Three Little Pigs. The Three Stooges. Three-piece suits. The BLT. Destiny’s Child, for all you pop and R&B fans.

With mixed martial arts, another classic trio of sorts will happen at UFC Fight Night 77 card on Nov. 7 when legends Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort square off for what could be the final time.

While the two are currently on separate paths – Henderson is coming off a devastating first-round knockout victory over Tim Boetsch, while Belfort was demolished by UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman – watching two accomplished and battle-tested veterans go at it will always draw eyeballs.


But what are some other trilogies that need to happen in UFC, and elsewhere? Here are some trilogies that haven’t happened yet, but should.

Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber

A rubber match between these two seemed all but assured in 2011. They coached opposite each other on the first “live” edition of The Ultimate Fighter and were going to fight for Cruz’s then-bantamweight title. Unfortunately, Cruz began his succession of knee injuries around this time that kept him on the shelf for nearly three years. Faber ended up losing two chances to wrestle the bantamweight title from Renan Barao and has since returned to featherweight for the likely duration of his UFC career.

But a fight between these two longtime rivals would still generate interest, as their last encounter was a fast-paced, energetic clinic on precision striking. Time hasn’t healed any wounds between these two, as Cruz still doesn’t resist any opportunity to needle Faber or his Team Alpha Male teammates. Faber was outclassed by Frankie Edgar in his last fight but rattled off two straight submission victories before that. He wouldn’t have any problem getting up for a third go-around with Cruz.

Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar

These two put on some classic performances in 2012 over the lightweight title. While Henderson was declared the victor in both instances, many scored the rematch for Edgar. These fights were truly Henderson’s coming-out party, as he threw everything he had at Edgar and showed unorthodox, high-energy offense that Edgar absorbed with his trademark grit and toughness.

Edgar is still every bit as tough as any fighter in any weight class and seems primed for another title shot, this time at featherweight. Henderson seems revitalized after moving up to welterweight, choking out Brandon Thatch in his debut. Watching Henderson vs. Edgar was like watching the unstoppable force (Henderson) against the immovable object (Edgar). Henderson looked at his best against Edgar, and a third go-around may not give Edgar the ultimate upper hand, but it would bring out the best in Henderson again.

Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua

At one point, both of these guys were considered the next dominant forces in UFC. At least until Jon Jones came along and brutalized Shogun in 2011. When Machida defeated Rashad Evans for the light heavyweight title in 2009, Joe Rogan infamously declared, “Welcome to the Machida era.”

Well, that lasted just under a year. After a controversial decision victory over Shogun in his first title defense, Machida was demolished by Shogun in the first round of their rematch in 2010. Shogun was then declared the next force to be reckoned with, but then Jones came along and the rest, as they say, is history. At least until earlier this year when Jones was arrested for a hit-and-run.

Regardless, Machida and Shogun are two of the most dynamic strikers in MMA. Machida’s crane-kick knockout of Randy Couture is still replayed today, and Shogun blitzkrieging opponents in Pride Fighting Championship is well-documented. Is Machida the same guy who got torn through by Shogun in 2010? Is Shogun the same buzzsaw he was when he took the title from Machida? Both guys are at a crossroads of sorts in their career at the moment. Perhaps a rubber match would go a long way toward determining who still has something left to offer the sport.

Justin Gaethje vs. Luis Palomino

I’m not going to lie. I just want these two to square off again because it’s so damn fun to watch. Gaethje knocked out Palomino in both of their meetings for the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) lightweight title. But that’s really oversimplifying what happened. Both guys spent each fight just swinging for the fences, and Gaethje took as much as he gave to Palomino and lived up to his nickname, “The Highlight.”

WSOF is still fairly unknown among casual MMA fans. But if you enjoy a good old-fashioned brawl and want fighters who leave everything in the cage, then find video of Gaethje and Palomino’s first two fights. If you play your cards right, you could see Gaethje and Palomino go at it a third time.

Palomino is part of an eight-man lightweight tournament in WSOF that starts next month, and the winner will get a title shot against Gaethje. So if you want to see a great fight, you should hope and pray that Palomino emerges victorious from the tournament.