UFC Fight Night 42: 5 Potential Opponents for Benson Henderson
UFC Fight Night 42 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was a big night for Benson Henderson, as the former lightweight champion scored his first stoppage victory inside the Octagon. His fourth-round rear-naked choke of Rustam Khabilov showed us that Henderson is capable of more than simply doing enough to earn a decision, cementing his spot at No. 1 in the UFC’s rankings.
Is Henderson evolving into a full-blown finisher? That much remains to be seen. While we don’t know whom he’ll face in his next outing, we know it won’t be Anthony Pettis, who is currently gearing up to coach the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Gilbert Melendez.
The two opposing coaches will face off for the lightweight title at the end of the year, leaving Henderson to continue his uphill march back to contention. With most of the lightweight heap already booked in upcoming fights, who should be next for Henderson?
Should he wait for the winner of one of the highly anticipated lightweight scraps taking place over the next two months? Or should he take on someone who doesn’t currently have a dance partner?
Should he take on someone down the ladder a bit, such as Joe Lauzon or Myles Jury? Or should he go toe-to-toe with Khabib Nurmagomedov or Rafael dos Anjos?
Let's take a look at five options for Henderson’s next opponent.
5. Joe Lauzon
Joe Lauzon is currently taking care of his newborn son, Joey, and has hinted at fighting on one of the UFC’s East Coast cards later this summer. The Octagon will touch down in Bangor, Maine, in August and at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut in September, and the UFC usually puts New England-based fighters on cards in the Northeast.
“J-Lau” is currently ranked No. 15 on UFC.com, so it is a bit of a stretch to put him up against one of the very best in the division, but if you put all the wins, losses and rankings aside, this would be a fantastic fight.
Henderson would undoubtedly have the grappling edge, but the scrappy 12-time post-fight bonus winner has a tendency to land some fight-changing punches that only need to stumble his opponent for a moment in order for him to capitalize.
Henderson posted a video on his instagram showing him back in the gym training again a mere two days after is fight. Might we see a Henderson vs. Lauzon fight headlining the UFC’s next trip to Connecticut? Only time will tell.
4. Ross Pearson
Although Diego Sanchez won the Albuquerque special in the co-main event on Saturday, we all know who won the fight. Sanchez is already pushing for a fight with Nate Diaz, and Saturday's fight was one-sided enough that it is Pearson who should move up the ladder coming off of the controversial decision.
Pearson is primarily a striker and would need to use his footwork and kickboxing to keep Henderson at bay, picking him apart from the outside. The Brit doesn't currently hold a spot in the Top 15, but most of the men who do either already have fights lined up or have already faced Henderson.
Henderson has struggled against guys with good footwork and diverse striking attacks in the lightweight division. His decision wins over Josh Thomson, Gilbert Melendez, and the second win over Frankie Edgar all could have easily gone the other way.
While it may not earn him the winner of Pettis vs. Melendez, a win over a durable fighter such as Pearson, especially if he could put him away, would keep him afloat at the top of the division.
3. Myles Jury
Myles Jury was originally slated to face hard-hitting Abel Trujillo in San Antonio on June 28, but Fox Sports recently reported that Jury has pulled out of the event with an injury. Trujillo has since been rebooked against Bobby Green for UFC 176, and Jury is now without an opponent for his return.
Jury’s injury is only going to sideline him for around a month, according to his manager Ryan Hass, who spoke with MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani.
Jury is undefeated in the UFC, sporting an impressive 14-0 record as a professional. Jury might look like the least intimidating fighter currently holding a Top 10 spot at lightweight, but his game is as legit as it gets. He’s got a sneaky style that poses problems for a lot of fighters. A fight between these two would be a highly technical chess match.
Henderson could stop the Jury hype train in its tracks, and he would provide the stiff test that Jury needs in order to establish himself as one of the division’s elite.
2. Rafael dos Anjos
Rafael dos Anjos is ranked No. 5 and fought on the same card as Henderson in Albuquerque, finishing Jason High with some hard punches on the ground, some of which were clearly to the back of the head. No warnings or fouls were called, and he notched his 10th UFC victory.
If Dos Anjos had gotten past Nurmagomedov in his previous fight at UFC on Fox 11 in April, he’d have a good case for Henderson’s No. 1 spot in the rankings. The Brazilian has won six of his last seven fights and very well could be who Henderson faces next, as timing is key these days with UFC matchmaking.
A win over Henderson would put Dos Anjos back in a spot to fight for the title, and a victory for Henderson would add another highly ranked lightweight to his resume of vanquished foes.
No. 1 vs. No. 5 would be a great selling point for a headlining fight on Fox. Perhaps we see Benson back in the Southwest when the UFC goes to Phoenix in December for UFC on Fox 13.
1. Khabib Nurmagomedov
The Dagastani told M-1 Global recently that he plans on fighting again after fasting for Ramadan, and would like to get back in the cage around September. He thinks that one more win will allow him to wait out the winner of Pettis vs. Melendez.
Nurmagomedov’s grappling has not yet met its match inside the Octagon, as he’s manhandled and rag-dolled everyone he’s been in the cage with. Both fighters are Judo black belts, so this one may very well be a contest of Sambo vs. jiu-jitsu.
Henderson is the perfect test for the surging Nurmagomedov. If Khabib can get past Henderson, he most likely would not need another fight to earn a title shot. Conversely, if Henderson were to hand the Russian phenom his first defeat, he would be right where he needs to be to get his belt back.
Nurmagomedov is Henderson’s highest-ranked potential adversary, and this is the fight that makes the most sense for both guys. Don't be surprised if we see a five-rounder between these two headlining a Fight Night card this fall.