Benson Henderson pounced on a wounded Rustam Khabilov. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Benson Henderson handled his business.
The onetime Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight titleholder submitted Rustam Khabilov with a fourth-round rear-naked choke in the UFC Fight Night “Henderson vs. Khabilov” main event on Saturday at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, N.M. Henderson brought it to a close 1:16 into round four, as he won for the 19th time in 21 appearances.
Khabilov provided a stern test for the MMA Lab ace, scoring with takedowns in each of the first three rounds. However, Henderson never panicked, continued to press forward and methodically wore down the Dagestani brute with his superior conditioning. A little more than a minute into round four, “Smooth” cracked Khabilov with a wicked right uppercut, followed it with a straight left and bullied him to the canvas. Henderson then transitioned to his back, locked down the choke and waited for the tapout, securing his first finish in more than four years.
Henderson remains a fixture in the upper reaches of the 155-pound weight class, despite the criticism levied against him after controversial decision wins over Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson. However, with lightweight champion Anthony Pettis committed to coaching opposite Melendez on Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter” prior to their meeting later this year, Henderson likely sits at least one more win away from a chance to reclaim the championship that once belonged to him. The unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov lurks, perhaps in a late-2014 title eliminator. “The Eagle” has compiled a 6-0 record since arriving in the UFC, the quality of his opposition improving with each outing.
Khabilov, meanwhile, likely upped his stock in defeat. The 27-year-old Jackson-Wink MMA representative proved he could hang with the best of the best in the lightweight division. In the heart of his competitive prime, Khabilov only figures to improve under the tutelage of trainers Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. A pairing with either Jim Miller or Michael Johnson would serve as a logical next step in his development, provided one of them loses their next appearance inside the Octagon; Miller meets Donald Cerrone on July 16, while Johnson faces Thomson on July 26.
In wake of UFC Fight Night “Henderson vs. Khabilov,” here are four other matchups that ought to be considered:
John Dodson vs. Demetrious Johnson-Ali Bagautinov winner: Dodson won for the seventh time in eight fights, as he wrecked John Moraga’s nose with a knee strike and forced a stoppage between the second and third rounds. “The Magician” showed no ill effects from the knee injury that had kept him sidelined since October, as he frustrated Moraga with speed and movement. Dodson, 29, remains a viable and marketable contender at 125 pounds and would like nothing more than to secure a rematch with reigning flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, the only man to defeat him inside the Octagon. “Mighty Mouse” will defend his crown against Bagautinov at UFC 174 on June 14.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Josh Thomson-Michael Johnson winner: Dos Anjos kept his foot on the gas at 155 pounds, as the well-rounded Brazilian stopped Jason High on second-round punches. The 29-year-old had not delivered a finish since he submitted Kamal Shalorus with a rear-naked choke at UFC on Fuel TV 3 in May 2012. Dos Anjos now owns a stellar 10-5 record in UFC competition. Thomson and Johnson will lock horns at UFC on Fox 12 in July.
Bryan Caraway vs. Michael McDonald: Caraway has emerged as a quiet contender at 135 pounds. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 semifinalist submitted highly regarded Jackson-Wink MMA representative Erik Perez with a second-round rear-naked choke. Caraway has won four of his five fights since entering the UFC, a split decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki the lone hiccup. McDonald, 23, is still regarded as one of MMA’s most promising young fighters but has not competed since he surrendered to a guillotine choke from Urijah Faber at UFC on Fox 9 in December.
Piotr Hallmann vs. Michael Chiesa: Hallmann systematically dismantled Yves Edwards, as he submitted the respected American Top Team veteran with a rear-naked choke in the third round of their lightweight showcase. The 26-year-old Pole has recorded 11 wins in his past 12 appearances and appears poised to make waves at 155 pounds. Chiesa has posted back-to-back victories since his submission loss to Jorge Masvidal at UFC on Fox 8. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 winner last fought at UFC 173 in May, when he earned a unanimous decision over Francisco Trinaldo.