Rankings Focus: Is Benson Henderson in no-man’s land?

Benson Henderson finished his first fight since 2010 with a fourth-round submission over Rustam Khabilov.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Benson Henderson is in an unenviable position. But at least he’s in good company.

On Saturday at UFC Fight Night in Albuquerque, Henderson finished Rustam Khabilov in the fourth round by submission, establishing himself again as the No. 2 lightweight in the world (No. 1 in the UFC’s contender rankings). Here’s the problem: Henderson has lost twice to the champion, Anthony Pettis.

Henderson joins the likes of Junior dos Santos, Joseph Benavidez and Miesha Tate as top contenders in their respective divisions who have already fallen a pair of times to the person with the belt. Then there’s the Urijah Fabers and Frankie Edgars of the world who have fallen multiple times in a row in title fights across multiple weight classes.

That’s a hard spot to be in. What will any of those athletes have to do to earn another opportunity at gold? Or do they just have to hope the current champion gets knocked off?

Could a move to 170 make sense for Henderson?

Pettis defends the lightweight title against Gilbert Melendez in December. Henderson has already beaten Melendez, so if Melendez takes home the belt, Henderson can make a serious claim to being the top contender. December, though, is a long time away, which is why Henderson was almost asking to be a gatekeeper Saturday night. He said whoever wants to fight for the title has to go through him first. Odd strategy, but pretty realistic.

There is another option. Henderson is a big lightweight and he made overtures about a superfight against Georges St-Pierre at welterweight when they were both champions. Could a move to 170 make sense for Henderson? That division is pretty loaded, but he could be end up being top-10 fighter there, for sure.

A more likely outcome is Henderson just being patient. In MMA, people get hurt all the time and Pettis seems to have the injury bug. If anything happens to the champion, Henderson will be there waiting to slide in and no one can discredit his resume.

Inexplicable move of the week: Mark Munoz pulled by the UFC

Mark Munoz’s UFC contract expired and he has been taken from the rankings.

Mark Munoz has become another casualty of the UFC’s decision to use the rankings as negotiating ploys. Maybe that’s only fair, because fighters do the same thing in attempt to earn more money — the higher they are ranked, the more leverage they have.

But the UFC makes the rules and this week they yanked Munoz off the middleweight list, because his contract was up following a loss to Gegard Mousasi on May 31 in Berlin. Previously, the UFC had pulled Nate Diaz from the lightweight rankings, because of "inactivity" and the refusal to take fights. T.J. Grant was removed at the same time as Diaz due to injury and his uncertain future.

Munoz has not been cut and in all likelihood he’ll re-up with the organization. At that time, it’s assumed he’ll be added back into the pool of potential fighters the media can vote for.

There’s no true set criteria for rankings and all this fiddling with fighters has made the UFC rankings even more murky. Never mind that voters can still fill their ballots with released competitors like Melvin Guillard and Roxanne Modafferi.

Rankings riffs

— Bryan Caraway was the biggest winner from UFC Fight Night Albuquerque. He moved up four spots to No. 10 in the bantamweight rankings. Things have gotten really interesting at 135 over the last month. Not only is there a new champion in T.J. Dillashaw, but both Caraway and Johnny Eduardo have busted into the top 10.

— Mark Munoz’s UFC-imposed ouster from the middleweight rankings helped C.B. Dollaway the most. He moved up two spots to No. 10 this week. Thales Leites — yep, that Thales Leites — debuts at No. 15. No one saw that coming, but he has won six in a row, including a TKO of Trevor Smith in his last fight.

— Vitor Belfort continues to fall in the light heavyweight rankings, which maybe means people are ceasing to vote for him at 205. He’s at No. 14 now and hopefully he’s gone from the 205-pound list soon. Belfort is a top middleweight contender, ranked No. 3, and not a factor at light heavyweight.