Benson Henderson is on a mission to regain the lightweight championship, and Rafael dos Anjos is the next opponent in his way.
Since losing his belt to Anthony Pettis in August 2013, Henderson has beaten Josh Thomson and Rustam Khabilov. On Saturday against dos Anjos, the former titleholder will look to make it three in a row within 12 months. That likely wouldn't be enough to earn Henderson a title shot, but it would put him one stop closer to regaining his spot atop the 155-pound division.
Quietly, dos Anjos has developed into one of the better fighters in a stacked lightweight class. The Brazilian has won six of his past seven fights, with his only loss during that span coming via decision against a surging Khabib Nurmagomedov. A win over Henderson would certainly make up for that setback against the Russian.
As this important lightweight bout approaches, let us take a closer look at what both fighters must focus on in order to come away with a win this weekend.
Benson Henderson: Work From the Outside and Avoid Being Taken Down
He's probably the better fighter in all areas, but Henderson does need to avoid being underneath dos Anjos on Saturday.
The best way to accomplish this would probably be to keep dos Anjos on the end of his jab and utilize his heavy leg kicks more sparingly. While Henderson is looking to make statements in order to earn his way back to another shot at the lightweight championship, he can't afford to get wild and allow dos Anjos to take him down. Likely the only way Henderson loses this matchup would be him getting stuck under the Brazilian for long periods.
Having given up 10 takedowns in his past two fights, Henderson is clearly vulnerable to being taken down by high-level 155-pounders. That doesn't mean it will be easy for dos Anjos to control Henderson on the canvas, but there is one clear path to defeating the former titleholder at UFC Fight Night 49.
Henderson is an excellent grappler, but he was beaten on the ground in his only UFC loss. Is dos Anjos likely to submit Henderson on Saturday? No, but he certainly has a better chance at beating Henderson on the ground than he does standing.
Rafael dos Anjos: Make it Ugly and Get Henderson to the Ground
Predictably, dos Anjos' key to winning this weekend is the reverse of Henderson's.
While Henderson would probably like to keep this fight standing or mix in takedowns in spots, dos Anjos needs to plan solely on wrestling. The Brazilian is a mediocre 3-3 in UFC fights where he does not score a takedown. Those fights account for 60 percent of dos Anjos' five defeats inside the Octagon.
More often than not, dos Anjos loses when he fails to win the wrestling matchup. That would appear to be especially true in this matchup with Henderson, who has hung with much better strikers than dos Anjos.
As alluded to earlier, the opportunities should be there for the Brazilian. Henderson can get wild and leave himself wide open for counter takedowns quite often. Dos Anjos needs to take advantage of those chances or he'll probably suffer his second loss in three outings.