Benson Henderson is a nowhere man. He's also a guy who can help you get somewhere.
The former UFC lightweight champion has twice lost to the reigning belt holder, Anthony Pettis. He's not going to get another chance to grab the golden ring for a while, perhaps not for as long as "Showtime" wears the shiny strap. But "Bendo" is perfectly willing to stand in the way of others who've set out on that path.
Rustam Khabilov walked into Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque on Saturday night as one such explorer. He was 17-1 and on a six-fight winning streak, which tends to get you noticed in this fight game. Yet the 27-year-old Russian was known to just the diehards among the MMA fansbase. And even those folks were mostly still forming an opinion on whether Khabilov was a contender or a pretender.
He's neither, it turns out.
Khabilov matched Henderson punch-for-punch, clinch-for -linch into the fourth round, until in a flash he was sitting against the cage, covering his face with both gloved hands, wondering what went wrong. Here's what went wrong: A lead right uppercut by the ex-champ, followed by an overhand right sent the Russian crumbling to the canvas, and Henderson instantly climbed on his back and clamped on a rear-naked choke that ended it at 1:16.
That result is not going to boost Khabilov into the 155-pound Top-10. But the performance preceding the explosive finish shows him to be someone to contend with.
As is Henderson (21-3).
"I don't do a whole lot of talking," Ben said afterward. "I do my talking in here."
Among those who received the loud-and-clear message received was Pettis, who was in the building, having cornered his brother, Sergio, during the prelims. Then again, the champ likely has other matters on his mind, such as coaching a season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Gilbert Melendez, then defending against the former Strikeforce champ -- and failed Henderson challenger -- in a fight that's yet to be scheduled.
That last small detail has not gone unnoticed by Henderson.
"The belt's not being defended," he said. "Anybody that wants to fight for the belt, come see me."
And when you do, fighter, be sure to let us all know.
Beyond the main event, this UFC Fight Night in an old rodeo arena was sneaky good. There were no title fights, but one seems to have secured the winner a shot. There was a fighter from a championship bloodline, a veteran of 64 professional fights over a 17-year career, and a winner of the original TUF. And there was an Albuquerque crowd that was ready for some fights to break out.
Notes from the undercard
'Those judges should be ashamed'
That was Kenny Florian, color commentator for the Fox Sports 1 telecast, pulling no punches in his assessment of the split decision handed to Diego Sanchez after the TUF 1 winner -- over Florian! -- was beaten to the punch by Ross Pearson for three rounds.
Is it fair to diminish a fighter's rightful victory just because we disagree with the scoring? Well, yes, it's fair, because we're just acknowledging that the other guy deserves his.
Pearson is the out-of-luck other guy in this case. He was the one landing the better punches, and he had the bout's only knockdown. But the crowd in Albuquerque, Sanchez's hometown, got what it wanted, what it roared for.
John Dodson already has tried and failed to wrest the 125-pound belt away from Demetrious Johnson. So has John Moraga. Their clash was a contest to see who gets a second chance.
It'll be Dodson, who had his hand raised as winner of a third-round TKO after the cageside doctor took one between-rounds look at Moraga's nose -- busted by a Dodson knee late in the second -- and recommended the fight be stopped.
Dodson had been in control the whole way, a winner in each round on all three judges' scorecards. But he was so inactive in the second round that Moraga was right in the fight.
Raphael Dos Anjos got back on the winning track by knocking out Jason High, who was making his lightweight debut. Then the Brazilian took to the microphone and demonstrated just how confident he is in himself.
"If Cain Velasquez steps up and makes 155, said Dos Anjos, "then I'll fight him. The heavyweight champion probably doesn't have a thing to worry bout. But fellow lightweights do.