Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson is not settling down after achieving his first finish inside the Octagon. After submitting Rustam Khabilov earlier this month at UFC Fight Night 42, he is already set for a quick turnaround. Henderson will face No. 5-ranked UFC lightweight Rafael dos Anjos.
With Henderson ranked at No. 1 in the lightweight division and fighting at least three times since the last UFC lightweight title fight, Henderson’s position essentially makes him the unofficial UFC interim lightweight champion.
Think about this. The last UFC lightweight title fight was held on Aug. 31, 2013. Anthony Pettis submitted Henderson to capture the belt. However, due to injuries and commitments to the Ultimate Fighter reality show, Pettis will not defend the lightweight belt against Gilbert Melendez until the final UFC event in December 2014.
In short, this means that there will be almost 16 months between UFC lightweight title fights. That’s a long time for a division in the UFC to go without its champion defending his title.
So now, despite not owning the belt, the onus falls on Henderson to essentially carry the division as the de-facto No. 1 contender. He already has a victory over Josh Thomson (ranked No. 3) and Melendez (ranked No. 2). Outside of the top 5, he owns wins over Jim Miller (No. 7) and Donald Cerrone (No. 6). If Henderson beats Dos Anjos, the feat will further establish that Henderson is the man to beat at lightweight right now because the champion is horrendously inactive.
The champion’s activity is something Henderson can widely exploit. Whether he is willing to admit it or not, fans had a bad taste in their mouths over many of his UFC victories. They were not necessarily bad fights or performances, but the decisions were so narrow that fans got annoyed. Now that Henderson has actually finished a tough opponent in Khabilov, he’s actually riding some positive momentum. But as the old cliche says, you are only as good as your last fight.
If Henderson truly wants to make another run at the title, he cannot rest on his previous stances of just wanting “good performances” or “I’ll take the win however I can.” Since he is essentially the top fighter and de-facto contender of the division, if Henderson puts in more performances like he did against Khabilov, fans will again ask to see him fight for the title again.
Or, he could simply perform like he did when he was having his run up to the title. His performances against the likes of Miller and Clay Guida were incredible and fantastic fights. If Henderson is truly after good performances, those are the type he needs to duplicate.