Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson finally proved that he can indeed be a finisher. “Smooth” picked up his first stoppage in nine Octagon victories when he submitted Rustam Khabilov in their main-event clash at Fight Night 42 in Albuquerque, N.M. The victory earned Henderson a Performance of the Night bonus.
The end came early in the fourth round when Henderson landed a huge right uppercut followed by a left hand to stun his opponent. He quickly took advantage of the situation by locking in a rear-naked choke to earn the submission victory at the 1:16 mark.
Henderson was able to silence his critics, including UFC President Dana White, who had been critical of Henderson’s lack of a killer instinct after a narrow split-decision win over Josh Thomson at UFC on FOX 10. The victory marked his first finish since a submission victory over Donald Cerrone back in 2010 during their WEC days.
Khabilov was hoping to prove he belonged in elite territory by notching the biggest win of his career, but came up short against the talented former champion. He held his own for three rounds against the No. 2 contender showcasing solid grappling skills and punching power before losing for just the second time in his 19-fight career. It was his first Octagon setback after three-straight wins and snapped a six-fight win streak. Khabilov isn’t likely to drop much from his current No. 11 ranking and possesses the skills to be a tough test for most top-10 competitors.
Henderson is in a tough spot because of his two career losses against current champion Anthony Pettis. He lost the title to “Showtime” at UFC 164 and it appears he has plenty of work to do before landing another title shot. Henderson has seemingly resigned to that fact and has made it clear he’s ready for all challenges. A matchup against unbeaten Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov would seem an excellent next step for Henderson in his quest to get back to the top. Hopefully, UFC matchmakers will consider making that fight become a reality.
While Henderson hasn’t been able to solve the Pettis puzzle during his career, his tremendous skills and physical conditioning make him a tough assignment for any fighter in the UFC’s 155-pound division. Khabilov found out the hard way that Henderson remains highly motivated and isn’t about to abandon his title pursuit. If Henderson continues delivering these types of performance it will be hard to deny him one more chance at gold down the road.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports.