The UFC makes its first stop in Albuquerque, N.M., featuring a host of Jackson's MMA fighters on a main card for Fox Sports 1 that is remarkably good.
There's a high-end, potential title-eliminator fight at flyweight, good prospects being tested up and down and a main event that could have massive consequences for the lightweight division.
Will Benson Henderson be able to get past the dominant wrestling and control of the surging Rustam Khabilov or will Henderson succumb to the Dagestani's skills? I answer this question and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC Fight Night 42 (UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Khabilov)
Where: Tingley Coliseum, Albuquerque, New Mexico
When: Saturday, the one-fight Fight Pass card starts at 7:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 8 p.m. and the six-fight main card starts on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m.
This is really interesting matchmaking from the UFC. It's sneaky, in a way. It's hard to look at this on paper and not wonder if there's belief about the growth and upside of Khabilov that's essentially unseen. What we have seen from him has certainly been impressive, but probably not enough to defeat the Henderson that we know. Henderson is a student of the game and always improving, but he's not in the stage of development where Khabilov is, namely, that portion of the growth curve where substantial gains are able to be made camp over camp.
The question here is what sort of new Khabilov are we going to get. If he's using what we already know he has and building off of them to add more potent strikes, better takedown defense, quick scrambles, he can certainly win this. If the progress is more incremental, I don't think he's demonstrated enough skills to think he has enough to get by the former champion. But this is an interesting one, a bout that could be very competitive and illuminating about the future of both competitors.
This one is likely going to end badly for Sanchez. Pearson could fade late under Sanchez's relentless forward pressure. That's a distinct possibility, but all things being equal, Pearson is going to box the ears of Sanchez and probably a lot more than that. We need not write more about the durability of Sanchez, largely because it's well established by this point. Instead, we should wonder if that'll be enough against a fighter who has respectable takedown defense, isn't cutting much weight, and can crack. At this juncture, I'm forced to side with that sort of threat.
Anyone who walks out to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony gets my vote of confidence on most occasions, but this is the exception. John Dodson is the best flyweight not named Demetrious Johnson. In this particular contest, he'll have the speed advantage, impenetrable takedown defense, and probably even the power punching edge, too. Dodson gets a lot of attention for his unreal athleticism, but the reality is the kid has god given power to absolutely thump. Moraga is a dog with an unrelenting will and penchant to pack brutality into quick bursts. He also has excellent finishing instincts, but that won't be enough against a fighter the caliber of Dodson.
I actually believe this one has a high upset potential. I'm going to side with the favorite, but hear me out for a second. High was a good welterweight, but not a contender. We don't know precisely how the weight cut is going to affect him, but weight class drops like this typically go one of two ways. Either High will discover his punching power and physical strength advantage is really noticeable at lightweight or he'll fade after one strong round because the cut took too much out of him. Since we've never seen how the cut will affect him, we have to reserve judgment. Just remember: no one thought much of T.J. Grant at welterweight until he started bludgeoning people after dropping down to 155 pounds. There's no way to know what High will look like, but this match could be more competitive than most expect.
Pick: dos Anjos
I like Hallman's guts, but he gets hit way too often for my comfort. Edwards is a lightweight pioneer in mixed martial arts and absolutely deserving of our respect, but he's much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He has to be careful as his ability to absorb damage has been compromised. Still, he's the far better striker of the two and if he's proactive but patient, has the tools to put Hallman away.
This is a tough bout to predict. They aren't identical fighters by any stretch, but they do share a common opponent in Takeya Mizugaki, one to which they both dropped decision losses. Perez is a bit more of an eager puncher on the feet while Caraway likes to lord his grappling prowess over his opposition.I do believe the American is a better mat wrestler than Perez, but it's not clear if he's got the takedown chops necessary to pull off the win. I'll give him the nod, but this one could go down to the wire.
From the preliminary card: