It had been four years since Benson Henderson finished somebody in the cage. The last time he did was at WEC 48 in 2010 against Donald Cerrone. That long dry spell is finally over. Henderson choked out Dagestan fighter Rustam Khabilov at UFC Fight Night 42 in Albuquerque, to resolidify himself as a contender in the lightweight division. The end came at 1:16 or the fourth round (rear naked choke).
This was a main event that was pegged as a potential passing of the torch. Former WEC and UFC lightweight champion Henderson, in limbo while Anthony Pettis holds the belt, taking on No. 11 Khabilov, who had never faced anybody of Henderson's caliber.
If the Dagestani fighter was intimidated through the opening rounds, he didn't show it.
The first round was back and forth, as the 27-year old Khabilov scored with a couple of takedowns but Henderson, the southpaw, controlled portions of the round with pace and tempo. The pace was deliberate, as each fighter felt the fight out.
In the second round, Khabilov -- who trains with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque -- had a big takedown again, but Henderson using rubber guard was able to push him off and stand up. A short time later he got Khabilov's back, and secured a body lock as he went to work trying for a rear naked choke. He couldn't get it, as the Russian escaped. Henderson began kicking at the legs of Khabilov as the round wore on, which looked to be taking a toll.
The third round was filled with scrambles and transitional offense. At one point, after a heated exchange on the fence, Henderson went for a guillotine choke, but Khabilov popped free. Inside of a minute to go, just as it looked like Khabilov was gassing, he shot in for a takedown and drove Henderson into the canvas. Henderson very coolly reversed and ended up on top as the round ended.
As the championship rounds got underway, Henderson -- who is known for his cardio, and trained in Flagstaff, Arizona to acclimate to the shift in altitude -- was the fresher fighter. After landing a huge uppercut that dropped Khabilov, he swooped in for the choke. Once he sank it, the end came just brief seconds later.
"The victory was good, it was the same as all my other victories inside the UFC Octagon, I bust my butt," the 30-year old Henderson said. "I opened my heart and soul, not just in this cage, but every single day at my gym at practice. I open my heart and soul. I put myself beyond what my body can take. You guys don't understand how hard you have to push your body. So when I get a chance to open my heart and soul in the Octagon for you guys, yeah I don't do a lot of talking, but I do a lot of talking in here.
"I don't need talking out there. I talk in here."
When asked who he'd like to face next, Henderson didn't bite.
"I talk in here," he said. "Whoever you all want to see me face next. Right now the belt's not being defended. Anybody who wants to fight for the belt come see me."
With the victory, the former champion Henderson moves to 21-3, while Khabilov suffers only his second loss in his MMA career.