THE BRILLIANCE OF BENDO
Mixed martial arts is an unforgiving game. Only in this sport can Benson Henderson get the first finish of his UFC career, and against a top level opponent no less, and have the post-fight chatter center on the controversial decision of the co-main event between Diego Sanchez and Ross Pearson. But let’s give “Smooth” his respect in the lead spot here, as it is more than well-deserved. Against a tough, tough foe in Rustam Khabilov, Henderson, as usual, got a fight. But as Khabilov showed his hand, Henderson adjusted, never losing his cool, never looking desperate, and when he rocked the Dagestan native in the fourth round, he did what elite fighters do – he finished the fight. It makes you wonder what we would be saying about Henderson if you take away his two losses to current lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. All-time great? Possibly. But I get the impression that one day that will be the tag attached to Mr. Henderson, who is a lot more respected in this game than he may think he is.
TIGER PROVES HIS WORTH
Despite the gaudy 17-1 record he brought into Saturday’s fight with Benson Henderson, Rustam Khabilov was largely an unknown entity as far as the mainstream fan was concerned. Consider him unknown no longer, and also consider the “Tiger” a world-class lightweight. Looking at ease in the main event spotlight, Khabilov gave Henderson a rough go before getting caught and finished in the fourth round. He will be a tough out for anyone at 155 pounds, and I expect to see him in the title race sooner rather than later. Khabilov is the real deal.
Okay, it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room, so let’s just get to it. Ross Pearson beat Diego Sanchez everywhere but on two scorecards in their UFC Fight Night co-main event. I haven’t rewatched the fight, but often what is seen as a bad decision on Saturday night morphs into a verdict that wasn’t as horrific as it seemed on Sunday morning. Not this Sunday. At worst, Pearson won a 29-28 nod, though this scribe and a gang of my colleagues saw it 30-27 for the Brit. To say Sanchez won all three rounds, like judge Jeff Collins did, boggles the mind. I get it, judging is often in the eye of the beholder, with some giving more weight to certain aspects of the game than others, and as humans, judges can often be swayed by the reaction of the crowd, but there was no aspect of the game that Pearson didn’t own. His effort wasn’t flashy or Performance of the Night worthy, but it was a technical, disciplined, workmanlike display that should have been rewarded with a win. It wasn’t, and that’s not just unfortunate, but it needs to stop. Livelihoods are at stake with every fight, and simply put, the athletic commissions need to make sure the training of its officials is top-notch and that the best of the best are in those three chairs for every fight from the first prelim to the main event. That’s not always the case right now, and the fighters are the ones losing. As for Sanchez, this is not an indictment of the former Ultimate Fighter winner. He fought to win for 15 minutes like he always does, and he doesn’t judge the bouts, but fights in them. He just didn’t win this one.
THE MAGICIAN’S MAGIC
With the controversy of Sanchez’ win and losses by Rustam Khabilov and Erik Perez, it was a rough night for Albuquerque’s hometown heroes, with the exception being the flyweight’s power punching ball of energy John Dodson. The hometown favorite was in control from the start against John Moraga in their rematch, and just like Henderson, when he found his opening, he pounced and finished the fight. It wasn’t the ending Moraga wanted, as he bitterly protested the doctor’s stoppage of the bout between rounds two and three, but there was no question at that point that Dodson’s speed and power were going to get the job done eventually. For Dodson, the win was just the first part of the job; the second was making his case for another shot at the flyweight crown, and he achieved that goal as well, making next week’s UFC 174 main event between champ Demetrious Johnson and Ali Bagautinov even more intriguing, because when it’s over, the winner should have “The Magician” trying to make him disappear.
LIGHTWEIGHTS MAKE HEAVYWEIGHT MOVES
Benson Henderson wasn’t the only 155-pounder making a big statement on Saturday night. Rafael dos Anjos looked better than ever, bouncing back from his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov with a second round TKO of Jason High. The Brazilian was throwing hard from the opening horn, and when you add in his stellar ground attack, he looks more dangerous than ever. In an equally impressive display, one that earned him Performance of the Night honors, Poland’s Piotr Hallmann submitted Yves Edwards, putting together a game plan that used his striking and ground games to cover all bases and finish one of the sport’s most respected veterans. That’s no easy feat, but Hallmann did it in style. Together, dos Anjos and Hallmann have what many consider the UFC’s toughest division looking even more treacherous for those hoping to make it to the top.
THIS AND THAT
How about that crowd at Tingley Coliseum? That place was loud, especially for the hometown favorites, and when Perez, Dodson, and Sanchez fought, let’s just say it was GSP in Montreal loud. Now that’s a fun atmosphere to watch a fight in…Bryan Caraway shook off the rust from an injury-induced layoff to submit Erik Perez and put himself back in the bantamweight contenders’ race. If anyone has proved himself since his stay on The Ultimate Fighter 14, it’s “Kid Lightning,” and a big fight should be up for him next…Scott Jorgensen took the hard road to get back in the win column against Danny Martinez, and it was good to see both vets grab a Fight of the Night bonus check in the process…Sergio Pettis wasn’t spectacular in his win over Yaotzin Meza, but he should be getting there soon. Remember folks, he’s only 20…Jon Tuck impressed in his submission win over Jake Lindsey, and his work with the MMA Lab squad and coach John Crouch is clearly paying off…It probably wasn’t the way he pictured his comeback fight going, but Lance Benoist got the win over Bobby Voelker after a harrowing few years that included two UFC losses, the tragic death of his twin brother, and a long layoff due to injury. If anyone needed that win, it was Benoist…You can now officially welcome Patrick Cummins to the UFC after his win over Roger Narvaez. Those coffee shop days are over, and yes, he will probably never live that part of his life down, at least not while he remains in the public eye. The thing is, the affable Cummins seems to take that all in stride.