Benson Henderson can be a frustrating fighter to follow. On the one hand he holds a career record of 20-3 and has held lightweight championship titles in two different promotions, most recently UFC. On the other hand, he hasn’t been nearly as convincing in the ring as his record or potential suggest he should, often leaving decisions in the hands of the judges (sometimes with controversial results) instead of leaving no doubt against opponents many feel he is clearly superior to.
Still, he has earned his place at the top of UFC’s Lightweight division, where he currently sits as the number one contender for Austin Pettis’s title. The fact that Pettis has beaten Henderson twice (with a championship on the line both times) and given Henderson his only UFC loss adds a certain aspect to Henderson’s next bout with the intriguing Rustam Khabilov.
The two meet this weekend at UFC Fight Night 42 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the first time UFC is holding an event in the state. Albuquerque is also the adopted hometown of the Russian-born Khabilov, who could become a serious contender in the lightweight division if he is able to upset Henderson.
Khabilov has many around the sport wondering just how good he can be, and this fight is a prime opportunity to figure that out. He holds a career 17-1 record, including 3-0 in UFC, and his one career loss came via split decision in 2010. His first two fights after signing with UFC were impressive victories over Vinc Pichel and Yancy Medeiros. In those fights he dominated while displaying a flair for suplexing his opponents that is rarely seen in MMA. While his most recent fight in November against Jorge Masvidal wasn’t quite as dominant, he still secured a unanimous decision victory and his overall body of work has solidified him as a fringe contender for the top spot in his weight class.
Henderson, however, is anything but a fringe contender. Since losing the Lightweight title to Pettis in August he has won his only fight while limiting his risk in order to properly to stay in the championship picture. To that end, Khabilov could be dangerous if Henderson looks past him to a time when the currently-injured Pettis is accepting fights again.
Henderson, for his part, seems to know what he is getting in to. He recently called Khabilov a “tough kid,” while displaying an impressive knowledge of Khabilov’s fight style. That dedication to scouting combined with Henderson’s talent and past performance are the reason he is the big favorite heading in to the fight, with almost every sportsbook on www.gambling.com installing him as a 2/5 favorite less than a week away from the fight.
While Khabilov is fighting for respect and will have the hometown advantage, it might be just a little too early in his promising career to expect a victory over one of the division’s top names. Add Henderson’s desire and focus to avenge his previous losses to Pettis and the blow a loss would deal to his contendership, and Henderson seems like a solid bet.
No matter what, the June 7 fight should pit the Lightweight Division’s present against one of the more promising faces of it’s future.