Winning is everything.
The landscape of the lightweight division could change this upcoming Saturday night (June 7, 2014), with two featured match ups serving as the main attractions for UFC Fight Night 42: "Henderson vs. Khabilov," which takes place at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The event will be broadcast in its entirety on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including the "Prelims," with one of the undercard bouts taking place exclusively on UFC's digital network, Fight Pass.
Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson looks for his second consecutive victory since losing the strap, taking on Rustam Khabilov. "Tiger" is currently unbeaten in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), with three impressive victories under his belt.
In the co-main event, fan favorite Diego Sanchez fights in his hometown against Ross Pearson. The former UFC lightweight title challenger will look to avoid losing his third straight fight, while his opponent could improve his unbeaten streak of two years with a win this weekend.
With the majority of this card's excitement focused on these two bouts, let's look into the near future and map out what a victory might mean for these four competitors.
It's fairly easy to assess Henderson's situation.
A win against Khabilov would get him back into the UFC lightweight title picture, whether you like it or not.
He's only lost to Anthony Pettis in his past 10 fights, and held the 155-pound belt for a full year, defending it three times. His win over Josh Thomson at UFC on FOX 10 was a little cheeky, but you can't say he's not one of the best lightweight fighters in the world.
He may have to defeat another opponent before a sixth UFC title fight, finding himself in a number one contender battle he would have to win. It's not like "Smooth" isn't used to stuff like that, anyway.
Even though the brass hasn't confirmed his place in a title bout with a victory, don't be surprised if it would happen immediately. He has enough popularity and drawing power (not talking about ratings here) for him to go the same route as someone like Alexander Gustafsson or Lyoto Machida in title fights, and since bad timing mixed with injuries have stopped a few contenders in their tracks before, it wouldn't be shocking if "Bendo" secures a trilogy bout against Pettis or a rematch against Gilbert Melendez.
But would you be on board with that?
Here is where things get interesting.
The Dagestani will be similar to a surgeon who has to perform open-heart surgery on someone in the wee hours of the night after being employed by the hospital exactly one week since graduating from med school.
He's had time to prepare accordingly, yet Khabilov is taking a massive step up against a former champion who's not only a well-rounded athlete, but also the toughest competitor Khabilov has ever faced in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
The Sambo standout can be successful this weekend, not because his opponent is the split-decision ruler of the Octagon, but more so because he actually has the tools to make it a competitive bout. A win would be huge for the Jackson-Winkeljohn product, although where would it take him afterward? It would be wishful thinking to believe Khabilov deserves the winner of Pettis vs. Melendez.
With that being said, would he be far off?
UFC would have no choice but to match up the 17-1 scrapper against another rising lightweight in somewhat of a title eliminator tilt, because let's face it -- toppling "Bendo" would be a tremendous accolade for the young stud.
Or, does he deserve an immediate title shot?
Despite members of the media and fandom who are skeptical about "The Nightmare's" future, (he's vowing to bring that moniker back) the Albuquerque resident won't be hanging up the four-once gloves any time soon.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 1 winner has treated us to a bundle of crazy scraps since his inception in the organization, engaging in wars against Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan, Clay Guida, and Gilbert Melendez, among others.
He has yet to find fine form since losing to B.J. Penn in 2009, going 3-4 in his past seven bouts, not to mention two of those victories (Martin Kampmann and Takanori Gomi) being somewhat controversial.
Whether or not the 32-year-old warrior has gas left in the tank, or a brain for that matter, he won't be going anywhere if he crushes Pearson. You'll see tweets from UFC head honcho Dana White expressing his joy of how Sanchez is a predator, and he'll follow up those statements at the post-fight presser, too.
It's unlikely the beef tartare sufferer earns a championship match up in UFC again, since costly losses and a packed house at lightweight would prohibit him to do so, but he will still be around to slug it out and put his body on the line for our viewing pleasures.
But would you want to see him compete again if he loses?
It sounds weird saying this, but Pearson doesn't gain much if he defeats Sanchez on Saturday night.
Sure, it's a big victory over a TUF season 1 veteran who's still a tough challenge for anyone, but it's not like "The Real Deal" is going to break into the top five or become a championship contender.
This fight is important for the Englishman in a sense where the train needs to keep rolling. His recent record of 2-0 and 1 "No Contest" since losing to Cub Swanson two years ago at UFC on FX 4 is pretty impressive, but he'll also want to gain some momentum after his disappointing result in his native England against Melvin Guillard last fall, where a cut forced the bout to end way too early.
That said, there are a bunch of 155 pounders in the same boat as Pearson, and he needs to separate himself from looking like a carbon copy. His Octagon record of 7-3 and 1 "No Contest" is good, but it's going unnoticed.
The only way to do that is to keep winning. If not, he stays afloat in the middle with the rest of them for a long time.
That just about does it.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 42 fight card BELOW, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" match online, which is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1 under card action at 8 p.m. ET and the the FOX Sports 1 main card at 10 p.m. ET.
See you then!