Khabilov won't press his luck after getting the ex-champ with his first Twitter callout.
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The way Rustam Khabilov did it, maybe it was never really fair to term it a "callout." It was more a request, or most accurately, an invitation. There was no malice, no ill will, barely even a blip of rivalry. It was more the audacity of it all that made the fight world take notice. Khabilov, who had been in the UFC for barely over a year, who had just scraped his way into the top 15, was asking to fight the just-deposed king of the lightweights? Yes. Yes, he was.
With a few polite words on Twitter — "I would be very happy to fight with such a great fighter like Benson Henderson" — Khabilov helped write his own future. The UFC brass has always appreciated fighters who campaign for what they want, and in this case it was no exception. Khabilov got his man.
Of course, a little bit of confusion worked in his favor, as Henderson thought he was talking to the higher-ranked Khabib Nurmagomedov, and accepted the challenge. But much to Henderson’s credit, even when he realized his mistake, he never went back on his word, and as a result, the two will main event a June 7 UFC Fight Night event in Khabilov’s adopted hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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Apparently, Khabilov doesn’t plan to press his luck, because asked if he’d resort to a similar tactic next time around, he said he would not.
"No," he said at a recent media day at Jackson-Winkeljohn Gym. "I don’t like too much talking because I respect every opponent."
"I don’t talk bad," he continued. "I don’t talk bad about opponents. I don’t talk before any fight. This is the first time I tried, because I had [an] injury. Me and [Rafael] dos Anjos had a fight. This fight I declined because I had injury. I feel bad. I think, ‘I need [a] fight.’ I try tweeting first time, and it worked, and he said, ‘Yeah, fight.’ I said, ‘OK.’"
The 27-year-old has only a single loss in 18 pro fights, and is 3-0 since coming to the UFC, most recently defeating Jorge Masvidal last November. But the move up to Henderson is more of a leap than a step; his first ranked opponent is the one presently holding down No. 1. By contrast, Khabilov is ranked 15th.
Still, he likes the style matchup, mostly because he believes his physical brand of fighting can pay off over the long haul of the five-round matchup.
"His striking’s very good, he’s a good athlete, his jiujitsu’s very good, but my wrestling’s not bad," he said with a big smile. "We [will] see [if] his striking’s good or my wrestling’s good for this fight. Everybody at 155 needs fights. We don’t need to look who’s strong or an easy opponent. We need fights for everybody. For Benson Henderson, [he’s] ready to fight with everybody. It’s the same thing for me, too."
That’s what this was all about from the beginning, he said. He needed an opponent, scoured the UFC roster for who was available, and came up with Henderson. There was nothing more to it. No animosity, no hidden agenda, just a sportsmanlike challenge. And that’s the way he intends to keep things going forward. Strictly professional, no drama. That means tweeting Henderson again is off limits, with one single exception.
"One time, I [tweeted], ‘Congratulations for your marriage,’" he said. "No more."