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With Davis out, Machida has few options

MMA fans witnessed an uncharacteristic and untimely false start from the UFC on Tuesday.

Dana White first said that a bout we all were expecting between Lyoto Machida and Phil Davis would happen on Dec. 10 at UFC 140 -- only to retract his statement hours later, announcing via Twitter that Davis is still recovering from knee surgery.

Uncharacteristic because as agile and media savvy as the fight company is on most issues, it typically plays fight bookings fairly close to the vest. News of upcoming matchups usually trickles out from other sources, generally coupled with the standard warnings that nothing is official until the UFC makes it so. Untimely because it appears to leave Machida with few realistic options for a replacement opponent, at least in the short term.

The former light heavyweight champion’s normally pristine image is still scuffling a bit after White publicly criticized him for his handling of August’s UFC 133 injury mash-up, when Machida reportedly agreed to step in for the ailing Davis against Rashad Evans, only to later demand what the UFC president called “Anderson Silva money” in exchange. He hasn’t fought since his epic front-kick knockout of Randy Couture in April and now it’s unclear when or against whom we might see “The Dragon” in the Octagon next.

Most of the rest of the light heavyweight top 10 -- at least those guys officially under contract to the UFC -- are spoken for, with betting odds already out for Evans’ title match with Jon Jones, Mauricio Rua slated to take on Dan Henderson at UFC 139 and Alexander Gustafsson headed for scrap with Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 141.

There is Thiago Silva (who Machida already beat convincingly), but he is still suspended after submitting a “non-human” urine sample for his bout with Brandon Vera at UFC 125. There is the until-recently-ranked Forrest Griffin, but he indicated he was looking for some time off after his ugly loss to Rua at UFC 134 happened the same day as the birth of his first child.

Once you start to consider the torn labrum of Rich Franklin (another potential rematch), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira’s impending fight with Tito Ortiz (another) at UFC 139 and Ryan Bader’s comebacker against Jason Brilz at the same event, it actually looks like most of the theoretical top 20 is all booked up, too.

Brandon Vera? Booked. Stephan Bonnar? Booked. Cyrille Diabate? Booked.

There are, of course, some compelling possibilities over in Strikeforce; the usual suspects: Rafael Cavalcante, Muhammed Lawal and Gegard Mousasi (who is, sigh, booked) -- but pull another star off Scott Coker’s roster, inject him into the UFC and, well, the Strikeforce jig will be about as up as it can possibly get. Probably unlikely to see any of those guys defect right now.

At this point, the best option of the bunch might also be the most obvious one: A rematch with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who edged Machida by split decision at UFC 123. After losing to Jones on Saturday at UFC 135, Jackson requested a fight with Rua in Japan in February, but with “Shogun’s” dance card already full, a bout with Machida -- who spent the first few stop-and-go years of his career fighting primarily in that country -- makes almost as much sense.

Except that by February, Davis could well be ready to go. If he is and Machida is already booked against Rampage, then you have to find something else to do with “Mr. Wonderful.” If that’s the case, just swap Davis’ name in for Machida’s and go ahead and read the last six paragraphs again.