The angel keeps spreading his wings.
Maybe that's a terrible analogy based on Benson Henderson's back tattoos, yet his win over Rustam Khabilov last night (June 7, 2014) at UFC Fight Night 42: "Henderson vs. Khabilov" inside Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was no joke (check out highlights here).
Call it a masterful performance, since "Bendo" had to overcome difficulties in the opening sequences of the fight. The bout started off by looking similar to Henderson's previous contest against Josh Thomson, where the Arizonian was taken down and out-muscled in the opening minutes.
Credit Khabilov for making it a gritty fight, and his fighting style was certainly an indication that he was a credible opponent for Henderson. Ultimately, "Smooth" established his striking and kept on catching "Tiger," drilling him with an uppercut and a straight left hand in the fourth round that dropped the Dagestani. He then locked in the rear-naked choke for the victory, proving doubters wrong that he is indeed a finisher when the opportunities arise.
After obtaining his first submission victory in over four years, the "Performance of the Night" winner isn't reborn or rejuvenated. If anything, he's continuing his march forward, and getting the win is more important for him since he's in a division where one loss could cost you dearly alongside all the contenders emerging at 155 pounds.
His first stoppage victory through 12 fights is simply part of the process.
Matchmaking is always a fun job for observers, pundits and actual matchmakers several hours after the fights, and it's no different when assessing "Smooth's" moves. He's faced the best fighters in the world for several years now, both in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), holding lightweight titles in both promotions. Since he's faced -- and defeated -- some of the best lightweights in the world, he's in a position where only a couple of match ups are on the table as we speak.
That said, those potential scraps could be against some familiar foes.
The MMA Lab product could wait on the sidelines and face the winner of Josh Thomson vs. Michael Johnson at UFC on FOX 12, primarily because it would be an interesting fight to book if the San Jose-based fighter walks out of his hometown victorious. "Bendo" met "Punk" at UFC on FOX 10 earlier this year, edging Thomson in a controversial decision that had everyone talking. It wouldn't be too enticing for Henderson to meet Johnson, unless "Menace" easily finishes off his opponent.
There's also Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller headlining UFC Fight Night 45 in New Jersey, but Henderson would be forced into a rematch against both of those combatants. He beat Miller quite decisively at UFC on Versus 5 almost three years ago, and maybe a trilogy fight against "Cowboy" would be more enticing. Henderson defeated Cerrone at WEC 43 to win WEC's interim lightweight championship, and then choked him out at WEC 48 in less than two minutes.
But the rematches that would make the most sense have Henderson competing against either Gilbert Melendez, who he narrowly defeated at UFC on FOX 7 in April 2013, or a third contest against Anthony Pettis.
"Smooth" was beat by "Showtime" at WEC 53, losing his lightweight strap and then at UFC 164, where he had to cough up the UFC title, too. You can say Pettis is his kryptonite, and it's the only puzzle Henderson truly can't solve. Some of you are keeping his run of split decisions in mind, but he still officially won those fights.
It's up to the organization to judge if "Bendo" should earn an immediate title shot after his win, since he would be 2-0 after losing the strap, including an odd call from the judges.
Still, fights against either of those guys, who will be duking it out at UFC's end-of-year event after their Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 coaching gig, wouldn't be met with too many complaints (even though the Pettis bout could be a little too soon for some).
If we're looking at a fresh match up, he can be pitted against Rafael dos Anjos, who was victorious last night, defeating Jason High in a fight that may have been stopped too soon. Nevertheless, the Brazilian's striking looked impressive, and he could be a tough match up for the rest of the division.
That being said, if we're talking about newfangled meetings, the one that makes the most sense is against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
He was the opponent "Bendo" thought he was going to face originally, making his mark inside the Octagon with six straight victories, not to mention the last competitor to defeat dos Anjos. At 22-0 in his professional career, he has the style to trouble Henderson, whose grappling would be put to the test against the elite Sambo and Judo sensation.
From a matchmaking perspective, this could be the only fight that truly fits. Have these two tear away at each other, and then give the winner a crack at the belt. Henderson's undefeated run against Greg Jackson products, by the way, now stands at 4-0.
What say you?
For extensive coverage of UFC Fight Night 42: "Henderson vs. Khabilov," including post-fight recaps, video highlights and more, click here.