Everybody loves a stiff challenge ... well, most do.
If you want to get somewhere in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), fighting through a bunch of irrelevant opponents in the minor leagues can only be favorable for so long.
You need to topple the athletes who matter.
At least that's the mentality top lightweight prospect Rustam Khabilov has going into his fight against former UFC 155-pound champion Benson Henderson at UFC Fight Night 43 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The human suplex machine spoke to Sherdog about his chances in the biggest fight of his life:
"I respect Ben Henderson. He's top (rated), number one, and I don't follow an easy opponent. I need a fight with whoever is number one. I want to know who is best."
Khabilov is on an impressive three-fight winning streak inside the Octagon, dismantling the likes of Vinc Pichel, Yancy Medeiros, and most recently, Jorge Masvidal at UFC: "Fight for the Troops 3" back in November.
For those who remember, "Tiger" petitioned for a fight against "Smooth," taking to Twitter in order to make this headlining match-up possible. It turns out, Henderson didn't really know what he was getting into:
"I take (to) Twitter, I say 'You don't have a fight, I don't have a fight, please come fight with me,' and before he gives an answer, he says (I'm) Khabib Nurmagomedov. People said this isn't Khabib, it's Rustam! He said, 'Okay, for me, no problem.' Any fighters I want to fight I'm very happy. Benson Henderson, he fights for everybody. He's a good fight for me. I don't think it's a good fight for him. It's a good fight for me. I need more focus for this fight."
Like a lot of Albuquerque-based fighters, primarily out of Jackson's Submission Fighting camp, Khabilov is relishing the opportunity to fight in front of his friends and fans in a place he calls a second home:
"I feel good, because I train here. I stayed four years in Albuquerque, and it's my second home. I need to make everything, and I need (to) win this fight, because I feel like my fight is like my home."
In an interesting twist, the Dagestani remains optimistic about his title hopes, even if he beats "Bendo" in dominating fashion. Would it lead him to a title shot?
"If I win? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe no. I'm number 15 now. I don't think I'm coming for number one with a win. I don't worry about this."
Good things come to those who wait.