Rustam Khabilov can make a major statement this weekend in New Mexico if he’s able to knock off a former UFC champion. The surging Russian fighter will tangle with Benson Henderson in Albuquerque in the main event of Fight Night 42. Both fighters are coming off victories in their last appearances. “Smooth” was able to grind out a very close split decision win over Josh Thomson at UFC on FOX 10, while Khabilov bested Jorge Masvidal at Fight for the Troops 3.
Khabilov is currently riding a six-fight win streak and is a perfect 3-0 in the UFC, with those other victories coming against Vinc Pichel and Yancy Medeiros. The Combat Sambo veteran asked for the fight against Henderson because he wanted to test himself against elite competition.
He’s an impressive 17-1 in his career and now draws the stiffest test of his career. Khabilov has nine finishes to his credit and has showcased powerful grappling and good stand-up skills. “Tiger” showed a diversified striking attack in his Fight of the Night performance against Masvidal, landing crisp punches and mixing in a well-placed spinning heel kick to the head in the final round to cement the unanimous decision win. Khabilov had been slated for a high-profile clash at UFC 170 against Rafael dos Anjos, but an injury forced him out of that matchup.
Henderson finds himself in a tough spot as he’s already lost twice to current champion Anthony Pettis and there are other fresh challenges for “Showtime” to explore other than a third matchup against the former champion. Henderson will need to look impressive against Khabilov to retain his top-contender status and is on a mission to take out everyone that the UFC puts in front of him until he gets a title fight.
UFC President Dana White clearly wants to see more from the former champion as he’s labelled Henderson a non-finisher. He’s backed up by the fact that Henderson has yet to produce a knockout or submission win in his eight UFC victories. He claimed the lightweight title with a decision win against Frankie Edgar and made three successful defenses before losing the belt to Pettis at UFC 164.
The No.1 ranked Henderson owns other notable Octagon wins over Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, Clay Guida and Jim Miller. He’s no stranger to five-round clashes having gone the full 25-minute distance numerous times during his career in the UFC and WEC. He’s always in tremendous physical condition and has a strong all-around game.
This is a very interesting matchup between two hungry competitors. Khabilov is seeking a star-making performance against one of the best that the UFC’s lightweight division has to offer, while Henderson is motivated to continue his winning ways on a quest to get his title back down the road.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports