UFC Fight Night: Benson Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov Preview and Prognostication

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Lightweight Benson Henderson looks to continue clawing his way back to title contention one controversial decision at a time against Rustam Khabilov for UFC Fight Night in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Benson Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov Lightweight

Could Henderson be 0-3 in his last three?

I'd say so.

For the longest time, the skepticism surrounding Henderson's career was whether or not his WEC success could translate into UFC success, as it was with all WEC fighters. When he took a decision win over Frankie Edgar for the LW title, it was seen as a validation of the WEC stable of fighters, but also a rebuke of the risk-averse style of the former LW champion. Alas, finishers! the critics said.

Henderson hasn't finished a fight since then, going to questionable decision almost each time.

Surely you aren't dumb enough to ignore his strength of competition and consider that a factor in why he hasn't finished fights?

Don't underestimate my stupidity, first off.

Second, Henderson has had one of the toughest schedules at LW imaginable, and yet this only marginally addresses his flaws. Henderson just doesn't fight with any urgency, and he should have been punished for it in bouts beyond just the Melendez and Thomson decisions (the Thomson, first Cerrone, and Edgar bouts in particular were close, but I thought they had a clear winner).

What about this Khabilov kid? He looked good against Rafael dos Anjos.

Different fighter.

Although Benson made that same mistake too, so you're in good (?) company.

It's been hard to know what to expect from Rustam. A suplex KO is as good as it gets in MMA.

Including Karo Parisyan's throw on Diego Sanchez?

Ok that was probably my favorite move in all of MMA. Karo lands it so cleanly he cartwheels his own body.

Anyway, Khabilov entered the UFC with two first round TKO finishes, but we didn't learn much. Vinc Pichel is a ham and egger, and Yancy Medeiros will likely not lose his thumb if they were to rematch (although I'd pick Rustam to win regardless). When he got matched up with Jorge Masvidal, I thought 'Joe Silva you Dagestani discriminating dog you...'

Then he shocks the world and beats Jorge en route to a fairly emphatic decision win.

Yea but doesn't Jorge always lose random fights he should win? It's not like anyone is praising Toby Imada and Luis Palomino.

While I agree with the general sentiment that Jorge is known to underperform, his losses are pretty specific. The Palomino loss was regarded as fairly controversial, his loss to Damm was the result of the worst TKO stoppage ever, and Imada was getting soundly beaten until the reverse triangle from nowhere. When had Jorge ever been straight up beaten soundly? Even in defeat, he's rarely if ever looked awful despite his lack of fight IQ.

So yea, Rustan is legit. Although whether this fight is winnable is another matter entirely.

He's +230 in some places. Yay? Nay?

Those are attractive numbers. The problem is that for whatever reason, judges are attracted to Benson's style. He needed to have an opponent run off the cage wall like a ninja and flying roundhouse his face like something out of a Gareth Evans film in order to lose a decision.

And Rustam is definitely not finishing Benson.

Rustam has a pretty primitive game, all things told. Obviously, he's got those Dagestani wrestling chops. He's very good at maintaining his grip, keeping his hands clasped for a high crotch, or controlling the back. In fact, it's some of the best you'll see in MMA. But his striking still seems like a weak spot.

Yea but dat spinning roundhouse.

True. Catching Jorge with that kick was insane, and oddly enough, if anyone is gonna get caught by something supernaturally unorthodox, it'll be Henderson. Needless to say, he better be preparing to defend Guile's flash kick.

Why would you link to that awful movie?

So I can link to this awesome article again, cataloguing why the movie was so awful, and how Van Damme was coked out of his mind thinking only about Kylie Minogue the whole time.

That article was so good I almost want to watch the move again.

I certainly did.

Anyway, Rustam is an ok striker. Obviously he's willing to experiment which is important for fighters with limited abilities on the feet, or who are relative neophytes. In addition to the spinning stuff, it's important to recall a reverse elbow he tried on Jorge. Needless to say, if he can land strikes like this he'll rattle Benson's confidence for sure.

But?

But I don't see him being successful enough to take a decision from Henderson. His boxing is pretty rote. He throws a quick, but looping right hand, and his head movement is somewhat subtle yet effective. He often ducks when throwing combinations. I think that's the critical point to make: combination punching is hell of a lot better than Henderson's flicker ghost jab nonsense.

Henderson's striking has always been most effective on the ground. On the feet he's never been efficient, except when he's throwing leg kicks. What makes Henderson effective (in the eyes of the judges) is that he keeps his distance, uses his kicks sparringly, generally avoids damage, and dominates in top control.

Where this fight fascinates me is in the clinch, and in the battles for top control. Although both guys will largely neutralize each other. So I see it playing out a lot like the wrestling version of Shogun vs. Machida 1, with technical exchanges in the clinch in place of technical exchanges in the striking aspect.

I hate picking Henderson here because on paper, I feel like Rustam's combination punching is better, and I don't see him being outwrestled. At the same time, I worry that Khabilov will fade, allowing Henderson to do just enough to win over the judges...which he has a knack for doing.

Benson Henderson by controversial judges decision.

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