UFC Fight Night 42: Ben Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov Review
The UFC ran its first event in the state of New Mexico. Let’s hope the UFC ran its last event in New Mexico, which we’ll get into in a moment. Benson Henderson turned in a late-round submission victory over Rustam Khabilov. Diego Henderson “defeated” Ross Pearson by decision. John Dodson finished John Moraga and made a case for a rematch with Demetrious Johnson. Rafael dos Anjos stopped Jason High with strikes, which led to some unfortunate post-fight shenanigans. On to the recap.
I’M ONLY DREAMING
After the horn sounded the end of Sanchez-Pearson, I tweeted, “Time to let Diego go.” Sanchez has been on the decline for a while, going 3-5 in his last eight fights headed into last night. Those three wins included two “controversial” (code for “bad”) decisions wins over Martin Kampmann and Takanori Gomi. But Sanchez typically showed enough fighting spirit, in addition to being one of the last remaining members of the original The Ultimate Fighter cast, to justify a roster spot despite the results.
That fighting spirit was absent against Ross Pearson. Sure, Sanchez threw more strikes than Pearson (all of twelve), but he never shifted into a higher gear like he did against Gilbert Melendez. As a result, the fight looked even more clear cut than the Kampmann and Gomi fights, and the stats played that out. Pearson outlanded Sanchez in every round (13-8, 17-13, 21-12). He bested Sanchez in both shots to the head (27-18) and body (23-13). In fact, the only striking metric by which Sanchez outlanded Pearson was leg strikes (2-1).
It seemed like an easy 30-27 Pearson scorecard. And that’s the first score Bruce Buffer read (courtesy of judge Marcos Rosales). But then Buffer announced, “30-27…Sanchez,” and everyone knew what was coming.
“…and 29-28 for the winner by split decision…DIEGO “THE NIGHTMARE” SANCHEZ!”
Pearson’s face said it all: a bemused look fell into “I can’t believe this shit except we’re in his hometown so of course I can.” If their history is any indication, the UFC paid Pearson his win bonus and will treat future matchmaking as if the judges got it right. It stings, and it’ll remain on his record for the rest of time, but everyone knows who rightfully won the fight.
Everyone, that is, except Sanchez. Most fighters on the positive end of a bad decision will give off some vague reasons why the judges awarded them the decision with a look on their face that says, “Hey man, I wasn’t judging the damn thing.” Sanchez, on the other hand, fully believes he won the fight. Partly because he pushed forward and wanted it more and partly because he’s a half-crazy person who thinks this is fate or God or the Stevia King blessing his life.
Unfortunately, the UFC has to give Sanchez another fight, despite the fact that he probably doesn’t belong in the UFC anymore. He’s officially 4-5 in his last nine, but competent officiating would have him at 1-8 and even Leonard Garcia’s thinking, “Dude’s running pretty hot on the scorecards.” Though, if Garcia’s career is any indication, Sanchez may need to lose five fights in a row before they finally hand him a pink slip.
The decision itself was bad enough, but Jeff Collins’ individual card of 30-27 Sanchez may be one of the worst scorecards ever turned in for a fight in a major promotion. In theory, you could make an argument for scoring either the first or third rounds for Sanchez. FightMetric’s Effectiveness Score, which attempts to quantify a fighter’s output, gave Pearson rounds one and three by scores of 61-36 and 56-49, respectively, and round two, in which Pearson scored a clear knockdown, by a whopping 113-42. The only explanation for awarding the second round to Sanchez involves some combination of gross incompetence, a bribe, or a strong bias toward the local fighter.
-Benson Henderson choked Rustam Khabilov early in round four of the main event, though he didn’t look particularly dominant leading up to the finish. (Two of the judges had scored the fight 29-28 for Khabilov to that point.) With champion Anthony Pettis not scheduled to fight Gilbert Melendez until late this year, Henderson will probably have to take a fight in the interim, and it may just be fellow-Dagestani Khabib Nurmagomedov.
-Following his loss to Rafael dos Anjos, Jason High gave referee Kevin Mulhall a two-handed shove. I didn’t pick it up on the broadcast, so the severity of the shove is in some question, though laying your hands on an official is never a good thing. High generally comes off as a good guy in the sport, which doesn’t excuse the action but may prevent him from getting cut. That said, he’s also expendable and coming off a loss.
Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter.