Much like the hyped California Crown at the Belmont Stakes this weekend, surging UFC lightweight Rustam Khabilov burned out in the final legs of Saturday’s main event, succumbing to a rear naked choke in the fourth round against former champion Benson Henderson.
The Russian prospect Khabilov, came into the octagon on Saturday an undefeated contender in the UFC, but had a tall order in front of him with a five round contest against Ben “Smooth” Henderson. Khabilov had looked like a force in his previous UFC outings, as the Sambo stylist had been rag dolling his opponents around cage and was looking to leap frog the top ten of the division with a victory over Henderson, but the former champ proved a tougher puzzle to solve.
After an impressive opening round where Khabilov was successful in taking down the notoriously agile Henderson and landing a few hard right hands on the feet, the former UFC lightweight champion began to pull away.
The scrambles clearly belonged to the quicker Henderson and in the second round he was able to take the back of Khabilov. In the later part of the second round and into the third it was evident that the volume striking, footwork, and overall pace of Henderson was beginning to frustrate the highly touted Khabilov. Benson mixed up his striking to keep his opponent off balance on the feet and when taken down he was able get his feet on the hips of Khabilov to create space and spring right back up.
Though he displayed a more complete MMA game through the entirety of the fight, where Benson Henderson really widened the gap was in the main event rounds. Like many of the horses at Belmont who struggled with the extra quarter mile they had never been forced to endure, the fourth and fifth rounds where uncharted territory to the young contender Rustam Khabilov, and old hat for former champ Benson Henderson.
At the start of the fourth round Rustam Khabilov did not have the same pep in his step as the previous three, while Henderson looked ready to go an extra five rounds if need be. Henderson continued his onslaught at the beginning of the round before catching Khabilov with a lunging lead uppercut and following straight left that floored his opponent and “Bendo” capitalized by quickly taking the back of the Dagestani born fighter and slapping on a rear naked choke at 1:16 of the fourth round.
While a victory was somewhat expected for the former champ, the emphatic finish he delivered against Rustam Khabilov should be enough to keep him at the top of the 155 pound division, which he needed after an underwhelming win against Josh Thompson, and for Khabilov, while there is still work to be done, some solace can be taken away from putting up a good fight against one of the most dominant champions in the division’s history.
Khabilov’s No. 11 spot in the divisional rankings shouldn’t slip much after dropping his first UFC loss to No. 2 ranked Benson Henderson, but it is also clear that some rounding out to the Russian’s game is in order as well. Using combinations to set up his wicked takedowns and throws and working on his gas tank will serve Khabilov well if he expects to make that last quarter mile count at some point in his career.
Graham Jones is an MMA Writer for RantSports.com