Last night (Sat., June 7, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Benson Henderson and Rustam Khabilov went to war in the main event of UFC Fight Night 42 from Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
To watch the fight video highlights for Henderson vs. Khabilov right now click here.
No. 1-ranked Henderson came in off a UFC on FOX 10 victory over Josh Thomson, a fight that may have actually hurt his standing. Former champion "Smooth" was in dire need of a finish, but he was faced off with an incredibly tough challenge in No. 11-ranked Russian Khabilov.
Long thought to be one of the most complete talents in mixed martial arts (MMA), the pressure was on Henderson to live up to that reputation after losing his title to current champion Anthony Pettis at UFC 164.
"Tiger" came in off of three straight wins in the Octagon, his most recent being a UFC Fight Night 31 decision over former Strikeforce title challenger Jorge Masvidal. His vaunted Sambo skills earned him a ton of respect, and for a while last night, they served him well again.
However, in the end, Henderson finally shook off a big burden to get his first UFC finish in Albuquerque. Let's take a look back at his critical win.
The first round kicked off with a clinch. Khabilov landed a body shot but couldn't get a takedown, and "Smooth" ate a shot before landing a low kick. Henderson pushed the pace while looking for an opening. He pushed forward with a combo, but Khabilov took him down and took his back to look for a suplex. The former champion defended well before Khabilov landed a big elbow. Henderson slugged a big shot and went for a switch kick, but Khabilov immediately turned it into a double leg takedown to close the first round.
Khabilov went for a spinning backfist early in the second round, eating a counter from Henderson afterwards. "Smooth" landed a good knee to the body and followed with a left hand. The fighters clinched and broke, and Khabilov got another takedown. Henderson snapped a kick on the ground to get back up, taking Khabilov's back on the ground. Khabilov scrambled well to escape, but Henderson tied him up along the cage. Khabilov scored with a couple right hands and Henderson with a leg kick as the second round came to an end.
Khabilov grabbed a kick to throw Henderson down in the third. "Tiger" maintained a front headlock before the fight went back to the feet. Khabilov snapped a right hand but Henderson controlled the action for the most part. Khabilov landed a hard shot off a break, following with a close elbow. Henderson locked on a guillotine off a takedown attempt, but Khabilov slithered right out of it to rain down some elbows to the body.
"Tiger" got a great takedown but Henderson reversed to land on top in half guard. "Smooth" closed out a close third round in dominant position.
The fight went into the championship rounds with Henderson pressuring Khabilov once again. He missed on a bodylock trip attempt and threw a big uppercut and a straight left, locking on a tight choke to earn the stoppage.
It was just what the doctor ordered for Henderson, who silenced all of his critics by scoring up a vicious finish of a very tough challenger in Khabilov. With that monkey off his back, there aren't too many places for Henderson to go now.
He may end up waiting to face the winner of December's Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez title bout, but a more interesting prospect would be to see Henderson face No. 4-ranked Khabib Nurmagomedov for the next title shot.
It'd be an amazing fight between two extremely resilient grapplers who could potentially hold the belt in the near future.
For Khabilov, his first stoppage loss will hurt, but he may actually learn more in defeat than he would have with a decision win. He witnessed first hand just how fast a truly world-class opponent can end a fight, even if that fighter had never stopped a bout in UFC.
A bout against a lower-level Top 15-ranked fighter like the returning Bobby Green would be a great scenario for Khabilov to rebound. He's definitely got the skills to contend with the best in the world, but he needs to shore up his striking game before he actually does.
Benson Henderson finally finished a fight in UFC with an awesome fourth round choke of Rustam Khabilov. What's next for 'Smooth' on his quest back towards a title shot?