UFC Fight Night 42: 3 Fights for Rustam Khabilov to Take Next
Rustam Khabilov took the toughest test of his career at UFC Fight Night 42, and his parents aren't going to be happy when they see the report card from the event.
Facing Benson Henderson in the night's main event, Khabilov put up a valiant effort for three rounds before succumbing to the former UFC lightweight champion's power and tapping out to a rear-naked choke in Round 4.
The fight marked Khabilov's first taste of the championship rounds, and the Dagestani mixed martial artist metaphorically spit up on his plate, collapsing under Henderson's pressure once he was forced to go beyond 15 minutes of action.
Still, the Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA product looked decent throughout the fight and had his moments of success, taking Henderson down a few times and blasting him with some nice elbows on the feet.
At 17-2 overall and 3-1 in the UFC, Khabilov still sits in a good place within the promotion's lightweight division, and he should receive a name opponent in his next trip to the UFC Octagon.
Let's take a look at three lightweights who make sense for him moving forward.
Stylistically, this fight rules.
Joe Lauzon is known for his slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he's dangerous at any point during a fight, creating tension and excitement every time he steps into the cage. Khabilov, on the other hand, loves to take fights to the mat, and he does so with vicious suplexes and slams.
While Lauzon's last fight was a win over Mac Danzig, and the UFC is generally reluctant to pit a fighter coming off a win with a fighter coming off a loss, this fight makes sense for both parties. Lauzon hasn't fought since December 2013, so he lost some steam during his layoff, but he's still a well-known fighter who deserves a tough, respected opponent.
For Khabilov, Lauzon represents the very bottom of the UFC lightweight division's Top 15, a good place for the Jackson MMA fighter to restart his run toward the title.
Ross Pearson somehow lost a split decision to Diego Sanchez at UFC Fight Night 42, causing Twitter to explode and words like "robbery" and "awful" to pollute MMA airwaves.
Despite outlanding Sanchez in every round and scoring one knockdown and one takedown to Sanchez's goose eggs in those categories, the judges saw the fight for "The Dream," and Pearson was robbed of half of his paycheck and a dominant victory over a well-known opponent.
Let's correct this injustice.
Like Khabilov, Pearson lost the fight, but he still won respect from the fans and proved his value as a top-level mixed martial artist at UFC Fight Night 42.
With a Khabilov vs. Pearson fight, the Dagestani receives a great opportunity to showcase his strengths in the grappling department and get back on the winning track, while the Brit takes the step forward in the division he deserves.
Loser of Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller
Two Top 10 lightweights in Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller will face off July 16 in the main event at UFC Fight Night 45, and the loser of that scrap makes a perfect opponent for Khabilov, especially if it's Miller.
Cerrone and Khabilov train together at Greg Jackson's gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so they'll probably be reluctant to fight each other, though that's never stopped Khabilov before.
Meanwhile, Miller, a burly veteran who is capable and dangerous anywhere a fight goes, would serve as a perfect measuring stick for Khabilov. Miller is well-rounded but not elite, and he's always faltered against top-level competition.
Khabilov was overwhelmed by Henderson at UFC Fight Night 42, a life experience he now shares with Miller, who previously lost to Bendo at UFC Live 5 in August 2011.
If Cerrone loses to Miller and agrees to fight Khabilov, I wouldn't take issue with that fight getting booked, but the real intriguing matchup is Khabilov vs. Miller.
A win over Miller would prove that Khabilov made the necessary adjustments to ascend to the top of the lightweight ladder and earn another shot at a top-notch opponent.
On the other side, if Miller defeats Khabilov, he'd show that he's not losing steam despite the loss to Cerrone, and he'd continue to truck forward and stay relevant in the stacked 155-pound division.