Benson Henderson – The True #1 Lightweight Contender
By Christopher Jester
Benson Henderson was in a strange place at UFC Fight Night 42 last Saturday night. Against Rustam Khabilov, he faced a fighter skilled enough to nullify some of his greatest assets. Khabilov could have been the man to send Henderson back into the pecking order of contenders. Instead, “Smooth” Ben Henderson, the talented athlete and tactician that he is, found a way to muster the strength to overcome Khabilov’s own savvy sambo skill set to score a submission victory in the fourth round; the first finish for Henderson since submitting Donald Cerrone in 2010 at WEC 48. With this victory, Henderson remains the man to beat at 155lbs.
If you don’t have the name Anthony Pettis you will find a tough match-up ahead of you against Benson Henderson. He has been near perfect against any fighter outside of the Pettis’ fights. So it becomes very difficult to not see Henderson as the #1 ranked contender in the UFC’s lightweight division. He defeated the current #1 contender in Gilbert Melendez, who has only defeated Diego Sanchez since coming to the UFC and that victory should not have earned him the number one spot. Instead, Henderson should be solidified in that spot until that inevitable third fight with Pettis takes place.
Even with Pettis owning two fights over Henderson’s zero against him, Henderson holds the keys to the lightweight scrap. He said as much in his Octagon post-fight interview. Anyone who wants to get to a title shot literally has to go through him. While Melendez has been somewhat gifted a shot against Pettis, no one else will likely gain such a favor.
Some may consider that Henderson has a long way back to a title shot. This is more far from the truth than most realize. If Henderson stays at the top and continues to defeat the UFC’s top lightweight contenders, this will force them to make that third fight of the Pettis-Henderson trilogy. Other contenders may have some issue with that but that is why Henderson is perfect example to demonstrate if those contenders are worthy enough for a shot at the belt.
The match to make to prove that? Henderson versus Khabib Nurmagomedov. With a similar approach to Rustam Khabilov, Nurmagomedov is a stifling opponent for anyone in the lightweight division. If the UFC wants to see how far this fighter will go in the lightweight division and if Henderson is truly the #1 or #2 lightweight in the world, this fight must take place. Their styles should make for an interesting match-up of grappling and jiu-jitsu, where the victor should be the number one guy at lightweight; excluding Melendez.
Henderson did what he had to do last Saturday night to stay at the top of the lightweight division. It just was not enough to get back at Pettis. With Nurmagomedov and Rafael Dos Anjos nipping at the heels of any lightweight contender on the radar, Henderson has viable options. But he should be the guy with the bullseye on his back. He is the fighter lightweights have to beat in order to become the next guy in line.
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