Benson Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov: A Full Head-to-Toe Breakdown
Since losing the lightweight title to Anthony Pettis in August 2013, Benson Henderson has only competed once, picking up a controversial decision win over Josh Thomson.
On Saturday, Henderson will look to pick up a more conclusive victory over the up-and-coming Rustam Khabilov. Having only lost to Pettis since joining the UFC roster, Henderson remains one of the best in the 155-pound class, but he'll need to make some serious waves to earn a third fight with the champion.
With wins in his first three UFC bouts, Khabilov has quickly become a contender in the lightweight division. The Russian's bout with Henderson this weekend will truly test his ability to compete with the elite in the weight class, though.
As this important 155-pound matchup approaches, here is a closer look at how Henderson and Khabilov match up in all areas.
While Khabilov has been impressive early in his UFC career, he has not been forced to stand. That lack of striking experience could hurt him in a matchup with Henderson.
Pettis has been the only fighter to have regular success against Henderson when standing. Although Henderson doesn't have much knockout power, with only two knockouts in his MMA career, the former champion outpaces opponents and is among the best kickers in the 155-pound class.
As much potential as he has at 27 years old, Khabilov hasn't shown the technical ability needed to keep up with Henderson over five rounds should this bout remain standing. While he may be more explosive, Khabilov is also going to have a tough time putting Henderson away with one punch, as the WEC veteran has not been knocked out in 23 career appearances.
Khabilov introduced himself to UFC fans by tossing Vinc Pichel around the Octagon like a ragdoll.
The Russian suplexed Pichel numerous times. Eventually, Khabilov dumped the The Ultimate Fighter 15 contestant on his head hard enough to end the fight via slam. Slam knockouts don't come around often these days, so Khabilov clearly explodes into his takedowns more than the average lightweight.
Henderson didn't reach the top of the brutal 155-pound division without above-average wrestling. However, he's not great defensively, which could be a serious problem against Khabilov.
Based on takedowns, Henderson has only outwrestled Nate Diaz in his past seven outings. That's not a good trend heading into a matchup where his biggest challenge will come in shutting down takedowns.
Although an armbar ended Henderson's title reign, the former lightweight champion is one of the more talented grapplers in the 155-pound division.
A black belt in jiu-jitsu, Henderson continues to compete in high-level grappling competitions regularly. He also forced Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner to tap during his WEC days.
Khabilov has never been submitted, but he's also never faced an opponent on Henderson's level. He also has a handful of submission victories, but none came against UFC-level competition.
Henderson and Khabilov are both very skilled on the ground, but it would be surprising to see one man catch the other on the canvas.
Clearly, Henderson's experience will be an important factor in this matchup.
He's been a champion in multiple promotions and has gone five rounds without conditioning problems on numerous occasions. Should his fight go the distance Saturday, Henderson would likely have a noticeable advantage in the fourth and fifth rounds.
Khabilov has never seen a fourth round in his MMA career. He's also never been under the microscope as much as he'll be in the lead-up to this main event bout with Henderson.
The Russian could thrive under the pressure, but his inexperience in these situations has to be seen as a disadvantage until he proves otherwise.
Could Khabilov wrestle his way to a big win Saturday? Definitely.
Would it be wise to put money on him doing so? Not so much.
Khabilov looks like he could be a force in the lightweight division for years. That doesn't mean he's proved he's ready to compete with the best of the best and win, though.
Whether the decisions were accurate or not, Henderson is a fighter with two wins over Frankie Edgar, one of the best lightweights in MMA history. When a fighter is making his first foray into Top 10 competition like Khabilov is, he doesn't want his test to come against Henderson.
The former champion will show everybody why this weekend.
Henderson defeats Khabilov by unanimous decision.