UFC Fight Night 42’s main event between Benson Henderson and Rustam Khabilov was, in some ways, a contest between the old and the new. While no one would dare call Henderson old, it’s fair to say that many of us felt that the former lightweight champion had already seen his best days inside the Octagon.
We were wrong.
A close bout was anticipated, and the first round went according to script, with Khabilov arguably edging it with his superior control in the grappling exchanges. However, as the fight wore on, Henderson began to impose his will, repeatedly putting the Dagestani on the back foot and gradually gaining the upper hand in the clinch.
At the one-minute, 50-second mark of Round 4, the former champion connected with an uppercut and straight left combination, dropping Khabilov to his knees. Henderson was quick to pounce on his positional advantage, securing a rear-naked choke for his first stoppage win since April 2010.
What We’ll Remember About This Fight
That Henderson is still capable of finishing fights when he commits to his offence. Having regularly competed at a high level in grappling competitions over the past year (including the ADCC), the former champion’s ground game is a legitimate weapon.
Hopefully, he uses it to finish fights more frequently going forward.
What We Learned About Benson Henderson
Henderson hasn’t put in a more impressive performance since before he held the belt. Indeed, he arguably hasn’t looked like the best lightweight in the world since late 2011, when he and Clay Guida tore the house down at UFC on Fox 1. Against Khabilov, "Smooth" looked like he still belongs in the title conversation.
On the negative side, Henderson’s boxing still leaves something to be desired. In particular, his range-finding triple jab needs to be abandoned for a more effective jab that is designed to actually reach its target. Given his wrestling background and outstanding athleticism, it remains surprising how easily Henderson gives up takedowns.
Should he come up against someone like Khabib Nurmagomedov, that particular hole in his game may cost him.
What We Learned About Rustam Khabilov
Despite the loss, there is no doubt that Khabilov still has boundless potential. The former Combat Sambo world champion has plenty of tools at his disposal, but his striking game looks very mechanical.
He throws everything he has into each strike yet does very little to actually set up his striking. When the Dagestani connects, his opponent certainly feels it. Unfortunately, he commits so much power to single shots that his punches eventually begin to lose steam as the fight wears on.
Khabilov still has title potential, but for right now, he isn’t ready for the division’s elite.
What’s Next for Henderson?
With any luck, Henderson will face Nurmagomedov next, the opponent he originally thought he would face on Saturday night.
Nurmagomedov and Khabilov share a similar background, but the former has clearly advanced his MMA game further. Should he and Henderson face off, a title shot may be in the winner’s future.
What’s Next for Khabilov?
Someone just outside the lightweight division’s top 10 would be ideal for Khabilov’s next bout. Having recently lost to Donald Cerrone, Edson Barboza would be a sound choice as an opponent.