Benson Henderson looked sharp in a submission victory over Rustam Khabilov, Diego Sanchez won a controversial decision over Ross Pearson and John Dodson scored a TKO against John Moraga.
UFC Fight Night in Albuquerque had plenty of contenders and implications for the future. He’s what should be next for the stars of the event:
Henderson is a former UFC lightweight champion, but it wouldn’t be crazy to call Saturday night one of his best performances. For one, he finished Rustam Khabilov by submission (rear naked choke). But he also outgrappled an outstanding combat sambo specialist at times and that choke came off a nifty one-two combination, which you don’t see often from Henderson, who is still evolving at age 30.
Who’s next: Khabib Nurmagomedov
What Henderson said after beating Khabilov made a lot of sense: he’ll take on whoever thinks they’re ready for a title shot next. Henderson has lost to Anthony Pettis twice already and though he might be the second best lightweight in the world, he won’t be getting a rematch any time soon. Nurmagomedov seems like he’s in line for a title shot. Give him Henderson and see what happens.
Rustam Khabilov should still get a contender next.
Losing to Henderson did nothing to drop Khabilov’s stock. In fact, two judges had him winning 29-28 heading into the fourth round. It was by far the Dagestani’s toughest test and he met it head on, despite not getting a victory. Henderson is by all accounts one of the top two or three lightweights in the world.
Who’s next: Josh Thomson-Michael Johnson loser
Khabilov absolutely deserves a contender next. It won’t be someone in the top five like Henderson, but perhaps someone in the top 10. Thomson and Johnson meet next month at FOX UFC Saturday and the winner of that will put themselves pretty close to a title shot. Khabilov should get the loser. Either way, the fight would have rankings implications and be stylistically appealing. Like Khabilov, Thomson and Johnson can grapple and strike competently.
Three people thought Diego Sanchez beat Ross Pearson on Saturday night — two judges in Albuquerque and Sanchez himself. Pearson, as he put it, "outclassed" Sanchez standing up and that was pretty accurate. Sanchez wasn’t even uber aggressive like he can be sometimes. If it wasn’t already clear, Sanchez’s days as a contender are over.
Who’s next: Joe Lauzon
What do you do with a guy coming off a win who really should not be fighting anyone ranked highly yet is a fan favorite? Find someone similar. Lauzon fits that bill. Both men are early Ultimate Fighter alums and frequent bonus recipients. You can probably pencil this one in as Fight of the Night. The UFC could probably sell this as a co-main event in Maine in August if Sanchez wants to turn it around that quickly. Mexico City in November could also work.
Quietly, Pearson has become a nominal contender at lightweight. But there’s no chance he’ll be in the top 15 when the new UFC official rankings are released Monday, because technically he lost against Diego Sanchez according to the people who matter: the judges. Pearson is going to need another win or two now before he’s in that discussion after being robbed.
Who’s next: Takanori Gomi
Pearson called for a rematch with Sanchez, possibly in England. That’s silly. First of all, the UFC isn’t heading back to there until next year, most likely. Second, there’s just no reason to do that fight over. Pearson won clearly despite what the Albuquerque judges ruled. It’s time he moves on. Maybe it would be cruel, but how about seeing if he could beat Gomi in Japan in September? He might have to finish that one.
If Dodson could have every fight in Albuquerque, he would. Tingley Coliseum was rocking for him Saturday night. Dodson actually didn’t do much until the end game, but that one sequence was so explosive it reminds you that he might be the toughest fight out there for flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
Who’s next: Demetrious Johnson-Ali Bagautinov
It’s time. Dodson fought for the title once before, in January of last year. He gave Johnson a run, likely winning two rounds in a unanimous decision loss, and he believes he really should have won. Johnson meets Ali Bagautinov at UFC 174 on Saturday in Vancouver. If he wins, Dodson would be the logical next fight, maybe some time in the fall.
John Moraga should take a step back in his next fight.
Moraga didn’t like the doctor’s decision to stop the fight after the second round, but he was pretty well busted up and he probably would have needed a finish to beat John Dodson. Losing to the top-ranked flyweight contender hardly hurts his No. 5 place in the rankings, though.
Who’s next: Josh Sampo
In his last three fights, Moraga has two losses and a controversial decision win against Dustin Ortiz. Granted, those defeats came against Dodson and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. But Moraga doesn’t give you the impression at age 30 that he’ll be able to get back in title contention. Sampo is a step back for him. He’s ranked. But maybe Moraga has become more of a gatekeeper at 125 than anything.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS
Without a doubt, dos Anjos is the more underrated top-five lightweight in the world. The guy really has beaten everyone he is supposed to beat since losing to Gleison Tibau in 2011. Jason High was the latest victim and despite a controversial stoppage, dos Anjos will likely hold his ranking at No. 5.
Who’s next: Myles Jury
This could be perfect timing. Jury just had to bow out of a fight with Abel Trujillo at UFC Fight Night in San Antonio later this month. Jury is currently ranked No. 9 and dos Anjos would be an excellent test for him to see if he can become a top-five lightweight in the UFC. Perhaps Jury will be recovered right around the time dos Anjos is ready to fight again.
Bryan Caraway was a happy guy after choking out Erik Perez.
Whether you want to believe the fishhook was intentional or not, it had no bearing on the end of the fight. Caraway was able to choke out Erik Perez in the second round and he looked really slick on the ground. At 4-1 in the UFC with a split decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki and all four wins coming via finish, Caraway is looking like the real deal at bantamweight.
Who’s next: Iuri Alcantara
Alcantara is one of those gatekeeper types. He got beaten by Urijah Faber, but seems to beat just about everyone below him in the bantamweight rankings. He’s currently ranked No. 7 and Caraway is likely to be just outside the top 10 when the rankings are released Monday. That sounds like a smart contender fight to make between two guys who can really work on the ground.