Benson "Smooth" Henderson wants his lightweight title back, but he's going to have to handle Rustam "Tiger" Khabilov before he can earn himself another shot at the championship.
The two men will main event UFC Fight Night 42 from Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Saturday.
Henderson lost the UFC lightweight title to Anthony "Showtime" Pettis in Aug. 2013. Pettis submitted his rival but went on the shelf with a knee injury after the bout.
He has yet to defend the belt.
In January, Henderson returned to the Octagon and picked up a close split-decision victory over Josh Thomson. Defeating another top-rated lightweight like Khabilov (ranked 11th, per UFC.com) would only increase Henderson's stature as one of the top contenders for Pettis when he returns.
Seemingly frustrated with Pettis' inactivity, Henderson took some not-so subtle shots at Showtime, per Damon Martin of Fox Sports:
Title or not, whether I have the championship belt or I don't, if you have the championship what does that mean? It means you're fighting the best people. If the belt's not being defended and you're not fighting the top people, give those top people to me. I'll take it. I'll do the job without the belt.
Henderson isn't the only one who wants the title around his waist.
Khabilov is 17-1 in his career and a perfect 3-0 in the UFC.
The 27-year-old Russian is a well-rounded and technically sound machine. His varied skill set will give Henderson a stiff test on Saturday.
Khabilov is trained by the famed Greg Jackson. The MMA guru's fighters haven't fared well against Henderson in the past.
In fact, per Mike Bohn of MMA Junkie, Henderson is a perfect 3-0 against Jackson's fighters having beaten Donald Cerrone twice and Clay Guida.
While Jackson won't be the man in the Octagon facing Henderson, Bohn suspects he'd like to break the streak:
Jackson doesn’t want to place added stress on the situation by giving attention to his winless record, but there’s no denying he’d like to bring it to an end. If there’s a time and place to turn the situation around and start a run of his own, it’s hard to picture a better scenario than Saturday.
There are 10 other bouts on tap for the card. Here's the information you need to catch the entire event, and predictions for each bout.
Just below the table is a closer look at the three biggest fights on the main card.
|UFC Fight Pass Preliminary||7:30 p.m. ET|
|Patrick Cummins vs. Roger Narvaez||Light Heavyweight||Narvaez by submission|
|Fox Sports 1 Preliminaries||8 p.m. ET|
|Jon Tuck vs. Jake Lindsey||Lightweight||Tuck by KO|
|Scott Jorgensen vs. Danny Martinez||Flyweight||Jorgensen by decision|
|Bobby Voelker vs. Lance Benoist||Welterweight||Benoist by decision|
|Yaotzin Meza vs. Sergio Pettis||Bantamweight||Pettis by decision|
|Fox Sports 1 Main Card||10 p.m. ET|
|Erik Perez vs. Bryan Caraway||Bantamweight||Perez by KO|
|Yves Edwards vs. Piotr Hallmann||Lightweight||Hallmann by decision|
|Rafael dos Anjos vs. Jason High||Lightweight||dos Anjos by submission|
|John Dodson vs. John Moraga||Flyweight||Dodson by KO|
|Diego Sanchez vs. Ross Pearson||Lightweight||Pearson by decision|
|Benson Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov||Lightweight||Henderson by decision|
Card per UFC.com, predictions by Brian Mazique
The Magician's Explosiveness Will Make John Moraga Disappear
Pound-for-pound, John "The Magician" Dodson is one of the most explosive fighters in the UFC. His combination of speed and power is truly dynamic.
John Moraga is quick and powerful in his own right, but Dodson trumps him in both categories.
Both men have faced and fell to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson, but Moraga was submitted in a lopsided affair. Dodson lost a unanimous decision in a fight that he clearly wasn't overmatched in.
Quite simply, when Dodson connects cleanly, he puts opponents to sleep. Let's remember, he took out newly crowned bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw before the latter made the jump to 135 pounds.
Of everyone currently competing in the flyweight division, Johnson is the only man capable of maintaining the pace Dodson creates.
Dodson will mow down Moraga with an impressive KO.
The Real Deal Will Will Be a Nightmare For The Dream
Diego "The Dream" Sanchez is an MMA legend, an exciting fighter and fighting in his hometown of Albuquerque on Saturday. However, his days of winning meaningful fights are over.
Ross "The Real Deal" Pearson likes to stand and bang, but he also possesses the ability to grapple. He'll need to lean on his wrestling skills in this one.
This is an important fight in the 29-year-old Englishman's career. He needs this win if he hopes to rise in the rankings and move toward a title shot. He'll be smart and keep the fight from becoming a brawl, much like Myles Jury did against Sanchez at UFC 171.
By maintaining top position and controlling The Dream on the mat, Pearson will win an easy unanimous decision.
Too Smooth for The Tiger
Jackson will have to wait for another time to see his winless streak against Henderson snapped.
Khabilov is an excellent fighter who employs good foot movement and varied attacks. He's also solid on the ground, but Henderson simply knows how to win rounds in the UFC.
His leg attacks and striking defense are solid. It's very tough to land a clean shot on him. If he's taken down, he's such a good wrestler, it's difficult to gain the advantage against him.
His fights aren't always spectacular, but his technical acumen is elite. He'll out-strike Khabilov in stand-up encounters and more than hold his own on the ground.
Look for a unanimous-decision win for Smooth.
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