UFC Fight Night 42 preview: With lightweight title on hold, shadow of Ben Henderson looms large over division

USA TODAY Sports

With UFC Fight Night 42 on the horizon, we take a closer look at perhaps the toughest out in all of mixed martial arts (MMA).

Ben Henderson has fought nine times for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and six times for World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), dating back to January of 2009.

And in that span of 15 mixed martial arts (MMA) fights, the only man to defeat him has been Anthony Pettis.

Nate Diaz couldn't do it. Neither could former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, or ex-Strikeforce 155-pound titleholders Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson. Donald Cerrone? Tapped in 2010. Jim Miller? Pushed around for 15 minutes at UFC on Versus 5.

And no matter how you scored his fights against "The Answer," or "El Nino" and "The Punk," the record books show "Smooth" as the man with the "W." Maybe his style of competing is viewed favorably by cageside judges?

No matter.

Henderson wins fights against fighters not named "Showtime," and that has to be a huge downer for any and all up-and-coming contenders. But know this: Anyone who captures the UFC lightweight title will have definitely earned it, because it will require victories over both Henderson and the current champion.

That's like having to go through Goro to fight Shang Tsung.

Unless, of course, Rustam Khabilov (17-1) can upset the apple cart when he goes to war with Henderson (20-3) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 42, aptly named "Henderson vs. Khabilov." The FOX Sports 1 event takes place this Saturday night (June 7, 2014) inside Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, New Mexico (more on that here).

A loss for "The Tiger" would be catastrophic for the division.

That's because the lightweight title is being held hostage by Pettis, who has been riding the pine since last summer with a bum knee. Following surgery to get himself back into fighting shape, "Showtime" was paired off against Melendez for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, which means they won't fight for the strap until December.

Best case scenario?

The winner emerges unscathed, then has a quick turnaround and a three-month fight camp, meaning the next 155-pound title defense could conceivably take place somewhere in March of 2015.

That's still eight months away.

A win for Henderson would not get him a title shot because he's already dropped two belts to Pettis. So, we can expect him to compete again before the end of the year and considering he's still ranked No. 1 in his division, he's going to get another top contender.

And since he's already disposed of No. 2, as well as No. 3, and 5, that leaves us with No. 4, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Again, this is predicated on a win for Henderson. That's not an attempt to discount Khabilov's chances, but the fact remains that "The Tiger" has never beaten a top 10 lightweight, whereas Henderson has defeated four -- and four world champions across three promotions.

It's a pretty tall order, any way you slice it.

Assuming Khabilov wins, he'll still need to fight again. Not because beating Henderson isn't good enough for a championship bout, but sitting on the sidelines for eight months when your "show" salary is a whopping $8,000, is probably not going to work out.

Where does that leave us?

Nowhere, really. It's not uncommon to see a divisional logjam, in much the same way Urijah Faber played spoiler multiple times throughout his career. To that end, a win for "El Nino" in December would set up a Henderson vs. Melendez rematch, partly because it makes the most sense, but mostly because "Smooth" can afford the time off.

But wins for both Henderson and Pettis and welp, we're right back where we started.

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