When Dana White first revealed that the winner of the Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Brandon Vera fight was going to receive a UFC light heavyweight title shot, the announcement was met with outrage. Initially, I thought to myself, "How does either one of these guys deserve a title shot?" Shogun is coming off of a lost against Dan Henderson. It was one of the best fights of the year, but a loss is a loss. Even with a win against Brandon Vera at this point, it's a hard sell. Likewise, Vera barely won his last fight against Elliot Marshall. In fact, he has just one win out of his last four fights. The following day after that annoncement, Dana White apparently had a change of heart and instead decided that whoever had the best performance between Shogun, Vera, Machida, and Bader would actually get the shot at the title. Let's take a quick look at al four men to see actually who deserves to be the next challenger.
MAURICIO "SHOGUN" RUA
Shogun only makes sense if Dan Henderson manages to defeat Jon Jones in September. Considering that both men put on a classic fight against each other, a rematch for the title would be something I would watch again. That, however, is a very big if, as Henderson will have his hands full. If Jones wins, then a rematch with Shogun will be a very tough sell considering that Jones made Shogun look like he didn't even belong in the same building, let alone Octagon, destroying him in their fight.
Brandon Vera has to be one of the luckiest men alive. He was cut by the UFC for losing to Thiago Silva, but reinstated after it was revealed that Silva failed a drug test. Vera then went on to defeat Elliot Marshall. Now he finds himself in a main event against Shogun, and a win here might land him a long-awaited title shot opportunity. Don't be mistaken here. Vera was a handpicked opponent after Shogun declined to fight Glover Teixeira. He isn't expected to win, but anything can happen. If Vera does manage to win, he'll get a chance to redeem himself against Jon Jones or Dan Henderson in his very next fight, and if he were to pull off what would be considered to be an upset and win the title, it would be one of the greatest comebacks we've seen in awhile. That being said, Jones smashed Vera in their first, taking only one round to literally break his face and ultimately stop him. A rematch between Jones and Vera won't be an easy sell if the two come out victorious.
Jon Jones and Ryan Bader were both on the rise when they faced each other. It was a fight against two young guys, and the winner was no doubt headed on to a bright future. When all was said and done, Jones completely dominated and embarrassed Bader, literally hopping over his back at times during the fight. That being said, Bader did just score one of his biggest victories, defeating Rampage Jackson earlier this year, and defeating Machida would also be extremely impressive. In fact, other than Jones, it's hard to find anyone else who holds victories over both men on their resume, so perhaps a Bader may not be a bad matchup for Jones or Henderson, depending on who wins.
Machida has an interesting style that can give anyone trouble. Out of the four men mentioned, he actually put up the best fight against Jones. He had a solid first round against Jones and, for the most part, he was competitive until the second round. There's a very strong possibility that he could be even more successful in either a rematch with Jones or a showdown with Henderson. Besides, who doesn't miss the Machida era?
Overall, all of these guys have one thing in common. They've all been stopped by Jon Jones. The only real X factor here is Dan Henderson. If he wins, it opens up the possibility for several new matches. If it Jones is victorious, however, we could be seeing a repeat of one of many fights that were extremely lopsided and uncompetitive. If anything, it might have made more sense to take the above mentioned names and have them face each other in a tournamanet, simply allowing the winner to earn his shot at the title. At least that way, you'll feel like the matchup may be competitive, even if it turns out not to be.