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Saturday's UFC Action

Saturday's UFC Action

UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Khabilov
By: Mark Kern

Benson Henderson (20-3) vs. Rustam Khabilov (17-1)

Line: Henderson -250, Khabilov +200

Benson Henderson looks to continue his path back to a championship bout as he takes on Rustam Khabilov at UFC Fight Night Saturday night in Albuquerque.

After losing his belt to Anthony Pettis in a first-round submission on Aug. 31, Henderson was able to bounce back with a narrow split-decision win against Josh Thomson on Jan. 25. In that fight, Henderson was able to get the victory by way of split decision. That makes him 8-1 in his past nine fights, with all eight of those victories have been decisions (5 unanimous, 3 split). Henderson is an incredible athlete that has the ability to wear his opponent out with his insane cardio. When he has fallen, it has been because he got off to a slow start. Khabilov comes into this match as the winner of six consecutive fights. In his last win on Nov. 6, he was able to defeat Jorge Masvidal by way of unanimous decision. Khabilov has a very similar fighting style to Henderson, and has an opportunity to really make a name for himself in the sport. While he has proven to be a talented fighter, Masvidal has not gone up against a fighter with the talent of Henderson. In the end, HENDERSON will be too much for his opponent.

"Smooth" Henderson comes into this fight with 20 career victories, with half of those coming by way of decision. He also has six wins by submission, with four others by knockout. Henderson has a slight advantage when it comes significant strikes landed per minute (2.78) compared to Khabilov (2.43), while also being a much more accurate striker (45%) than Khabilov (35%). The 30-year-old Henderson is one of the quickest fighters in the sport, making it very difficult for his opponent to take him to the ground. He has successfully defended 65% of the takedown attempts against him (Khabilov has 50% takedown defense). That will be a huge key in this fight, as Khabilov is at his very best when he is able to take the fight to the ground. If Henderson, who hails from Colorado Springs, CO and fights out of Glendale AZ, comes out from the very beginning ready to fight, he should not have any problems getting the win. However, if he starts out slow, Khabilov is talented enough to pull off the big upset.

"Tiger" Khabilov comes into this fight with 17 wins on his resume, with eight of them coming by way of decision. He also has five wins by submission, with another four coming by way of knockout, and eight of these nine finishes occurred in the first round. The Russian-born Khabilov has a huge advantage when it comes to grappling, as he has a takedown average of 6.07, which more than doubles what Henderson has done (2.74). While the 27-year-old Khabilov does not win a ton of matches by submission, he does a great job of constantly earning points by his takedowns, as well as wearing his opponents out. While it will be difficult to wear Henderson down, scoring points early with some takedowns could be exactly what Khabilov needs to get the decision victory. The 5-foot-10 Khabilov will also have a slight reach advantage standing one inch taller than his opponent, and Khabilov is familiar with this venue since he currently fights out of Albuquerque.

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Re: Saturday's UFC Action

UFC Fight Night: Sanchez vs. Pearson
By: Mark Kern

Diego Sanchez (26-7) vs. Ross Pearson (17-6-1)

Line: Pearson -185, Sanchez +150

Diego Sanchez and Ross Pearson square off Saturday night in what has the makings of being the fight of the night in New Mexico.

It has been a tough stretch for Sanchez, who he has lost three of his past four bouts. All three of those defeats have been by way of unanimous decision, including his last fight against Myles Jury on March 15. One thing that has hurt Sanchez is his cardio, as a majority of his losses have come from the judges, as he's 9-6 when fights are determined by decision. He will have to be ready to fight from the very beginning of this match, as Pearson has the ability to end fights quickly. In his last match against Melvin Guillard on Oct. 26, the fight was called a non-contest after Guillard delivered an illegal knee to Pearson. In his previous match on April 6, 2013, Pearson defeated Ryan Couture in the second round by way of TKO. Sanchez has had a tough stretch, and it will not get any easier facing Pearson. Look for a competitive match, but for the favored PEARSON to win in thrilling fashion at the end.

"The Real Deal" Pearson has 17 wins in his career, with seven of those victories coming by way of decision. He also has six wins by knockout and four by submission, which shows his versatility in the octagon. Pearson has proven to be a vicious striker, and will have a huge advantage when it comes to striking. He lands an average of 4.12 significant strikes per minute, compared to only 2.77 strikes for Sanchez. The British-born Pearson is also more accurate when it comes to striking percentage, landing 42% of his attempts, compared to 36% for his opponent. Another advantage for the 29-year-old Pearson will be his ability to defend against the takedown, with an impressive 81% defense rate of takedowns in his career. As long as he is able to stay focused and consistent with his punches, Pearson will be in great shape to get the win. However, if Sanchez can get in Pearson's head early, he will have a great chance of getting the upset.

Of his 26 career victories, "The Dream" Sanchez has 12 wins by way of decision. He also has nine wins by knockout, with another five coming by way of submission. The 5-foot-10 Sanchez not only has a two-inch height advantage in this fight, but he also has a big edge in terms of takedowns, averaging 1.65, compared to only 1.11 for Pearson. However, Sanchez can get careless with his takedowns, converting on only 22% of his attempts. That could be bad news against Pearson, who does such a great job defending against the takedown. However, Sanchez will certainly have the hometown crowd in his favor, as he hails from Albuquerque and currently trains in the New Mexico's largest city as well. For Sanchez to get the win, he must be ready to go from the start, as Pearson will come out amped up from the very beginning.

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Re: Saturday's UFC Action

UFC Odds and Picks
By: Hugh Citron

LAS VEGAS -- In a UFC lightweight bout Saturday night from Albuquerque, Benson Henderson, the former champion in the division, is a -250 favorite over and Rustam Khabilov, who is getting about 2-to-1 odds as the underdog (prelims 8 p.m. ET, main event 10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1).

When looking back at Henderson's career, it’s impressive to see all the great lightweights he's fought and beaten. Wins over Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, Donald Cerrone and two wins over Frankie Edgar highlight an already great career for a fighter who, at 30 years of age, is still in his prime.

In his most recent outing, on Jan. 25, Benson (20-3) earned a controversial split decision over Josh Thomson in a fight that easily could have gone the other way. In his previous bout, Henderson, attempting to defend his lightweight title for the fourth time, lost in the first round to Anthony Pettis via an armbar submission. Pettis remains the lightweight champion.

Saturday night marks a huge fight for the No. 2-ranked Henderson to maintain his current standing in the division. A win here puts him right back in the title hunt, and he’d probably get a shot at it early next year.

Khabilov, who has tasted defeat only once, is on a six-fight winning streak and can really jump up from his 11th ranking with a win here over the former champ.

Khabilov (17-1) is trained by Greg Jackson, who, like him or not, is probably the best trainer in business and will surely have his man prepared with a great game plan to pull the upset. When you look back at resumes of both fighters, it's hard to see Henderson as only a -250 favorite, and the price tells you how much respect the oddsmakers have for Khabilov and Jackson.

Also, fighting in Albuquerque, where Jackson's gym is based, could give Khabilov a bit of a home-crowd advantage.

Underdogs have been solid in the UFC so far this year, so I'm taking Khabilov and the 2-to-1 price to pull a mild upset Saturday night.

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