UFC Fight Night 42: Ben Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov
All right, team, I have a confession to make. I was writing my preview for this week’s UFC event and I was so excited because it had some magnificent takes on the card and the world of MMA and that excitement led me to tweet about how I’d gone over my word count for my UFC 174 preview. And then someone let me know that UFC 174 was actually NEXT weekend, and I should be writing a preview for this week’s Fight Night headlined by Ben Henderson and Rustam Khabilov. I legitimately didn’t even know Henderson was fighting Khabilov this weekend. What that says about the UFC or me, I don’t know, but I am shamed. I will have a fabulous UFC 174 preview for you next week, however, so get hyped for that.
ALL THESE DAGESTANIS JUST LOOK A LIKE, AMIRITE?
Between Khabilov and Ali Bagautinov (both fighting back-to-back weeks) and Khabib Nurmagomedov, you have three Dagestani-born fighters making serious runs up the UFC rankings, which makes them a sort of Thiago Alves/Thiago Silva/Wanderlei Silva/Anderson Silva of the modern UFC. The Dagestani invasion seemed to come out of nowhere, but it shouldn’t be all that surprising considering that region’s wrestling/judo/combat sambo culture and (good/great) fighters typically coming out of environments of some measurable duress.
Anyway, Khabilov is fighting Henderson (who mistakenly believed he’d been matched up with Nurmagomedov). He’s the least credentialed of the three Dagestanis. Nurmagomedov’s beaten a pretty good collection of lightweights and Bagautinov earned a title shot against Demetrious Johnson (which, remember, you can read about next week!) with victories over lower-top-ten flyweights. Khabilov’s best win came in his last fight against Jorge Masvidal, and Henderson represents a pretty huge leap in competition.
As for Henderson, he finds himself in a pretty interesting position. (An oft-injured) Anthony Pettis beat him quickly and convincingly last August, and Henderson rebounded with an unconvincing decision victory over Josh Thomson in January. Now he headlines a FS1 Fight Night event that’s flown way under the radar (I mean, how else would I forget about it?) against a guy who is taking that big leap in competition. Henderson seems to have a skill set and makeup that should make him a dominant lightweight champ, but that never manifested itself, and with his inability to connect with fans (maybe because of his overt Christianity) it seems the UFC is in no rush to get him back into the title picture.
DREAM A LITTLE DREAM WITH ME
Opponents have outstruck Diego Sanchez in 7 of his last 8 fights. (The lone fight he had the striking advantage? Against Paulo Thiago.) During that stretch, Diego has gone 3-5, with two underserved victories over Martin Kampmann and Takanori Gomi, and absorbed 439 strikes just to the head alone. I wish I could give you some context for that in terms of how that compares to other lightweights, but all I can tell you is that it breaks down to an average of nearly 55 strikes (just to the head) for those eight fights, and holy crap does that seem like a lot. (And then you add in all the shots to the head he’s taken in training.)
So, in Diego, we have a guy who is 32 with 31 fights under his belt and twelve years in the sport. He’s, for our purposes, 1-7 in his last eight. And while I hate beating the “this guy should retire/this guy maybe shouldn’t be fighting top guys in the UFC” drum, but I don’t actually hate it, and Diego Sanchez probably should retire or at least stop fighting top guys in the UFC.
Ross Pearson may not be an elite fighter, but he’s flirted with the top ten during his time with the promotion. He’s also the type of fighter that’s going to add some digits to Diego’s head strike counter. He’s a durable (only finished twice in eleven fights) English kickboxer who can take some punishment while dishing it out, so it’s likely that this goes the full three rounds with each guy landing 50-60 significant strikes and let’s say 60-80 total strikes with the majority going to the head. Pearson’s also expected to win (nearly a 2-1 favorite according to Best Fight Odds), so that’ll make Sanchez effectively 1-8 in his last nine, and, really, what the hell is he still doing in the UFC?
-Flyweights John Dodson and John Moraga rematch in attempt to figure out the best John in the flyweight division. There can be only one.
-Jason High makes his lightweight debut against Rafael dos Anjos.
-Anthony Pettis’ younger brother, Sergio, attempts to bounce back from a loss to Alex Caceres on the FS1 prelims.
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.