Benson Henderson entered Bellator 273 in Phoenix on Saturday night in unfamiliar territory: on a three-fight skid, the worst losing streak of his career, in must-win territory against an opponent, Islam Mamedov, who had not tasted defeat since 2009.
To say a win was crucial was stating what was plainly obvious. To suggest the former UFC lightweight champ was being used a stepping stone for a new contender was also, frankly, accurate. Whether Henderson still had what it took to turn that contender back was the question.
The answer came after a full fifteen minutes.
Henderson vs. Mamedov started with a feeling out process; it was 90 seconds or so before “Smooth” fired an outside leg kick. After a right hand to the body, Henderson would land a slightly crisper outside leg kick; Mamedov would answer with a kick to the body.
Near the midway mark, Mamedov was able to clinch and back Henderson up to the fence. He would work in knees both low and high, but Henderson was able to reverse. When Mamedov did manage to trip the former UFC champ, Henderson landed on top. Mamedov scrambled out; he’d look for another takedown only for Henderson to lock up a guillotine. Henderson put the squeeze on, as Mamedov tried to scramble out again — only to have a leg trapped by Henderson, who still had the guillotine in place. The choke looked tight, but Mamedov would finally pop his head out with about 20 seconds left in the round.
Islam Mamedov fired a high kick in the opening minute of round two, while Henderson circled outside. Mamedov would fire a right hand to set up his entry to the takedown; Henderson again latched on with a guillotine, arm-in this time, but he didn’t have it. Mamedov wound up in side control, then transitioned to a rear-naked choke. Somehow, Henderson survived, making it to a three-point stance with Mamedov pretty much on his back. Henderson then rolled for a kneebar, switched to a heel hook, and fired an upkick to Mamedov’s midsection. Mamedov would lock in a standing rear-naked choke while on Henderson’s back; “Smooth” answered by slamming Mamedov— and would make it out of the round.
Heading to the third, it was very possible the fight was tied. Mamedov fired a right hand that glanced off Henderson’s face; he returned fire with a left. A right hook followed for Henderson. Henderson fired a high kick, perhaps tempting fate, or at least a takedown. Mamedov didn’t bite, however. A short time later, Mamedov landed an easy takedown, and there was no guillotine attempt to be had for Henderson. Henderson got his back to the fence, then rolled into a kneebar attempt— very slick, but a low percentage attack. Mamedov would finish a wildly entertaining fight on top, and they’d head to the scorecards.
Following a close three rounds, it was Benson Henderson earning the split decision win. Not only does he snap his three-fight skid, he becomes the first to defeat Mamedov since 2009 — a full twenty fights.
Official result: Benson Henderson def. Islam Mamedov by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)