Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War thousands of years before Mixed Martial Arts existed. Though he aimed to breakdown what aspects of military planning decided the winner of a battle, we can adapt his vision to the sport of MMA. So, what does one of the world's greatest military minds have to say about Sunday's match up between "Smooth" Ben Henderson and Rustam "Tiger" Khabilov?
1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the moral law? (Who is harder to finish?)
- Khabilov has never been finished in his professional career, and it's doubtful that Bendo will be the one to break that streak. Henderson on the other hand tapped to an anaconda choke early in his career, and lost his championship belt to Anthony Pettis via armbar. Though he has a BJJ black belt, Henderson tends to put himself in compromising positions on the ground; as evident in his first fight with Donald Cerrone, Clay Guida, and the aforementioned Pettis. With his high level sambo, Khabilov may be good enough to snatch a sub should Bendo get too reckless and leave an opening for the Russian to exploit. Advantage: Khabilov
2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (Who has the better corner?)
- One doesn’t travel from Dagestan to Albuquerque, New Mexico without good reason. The salsa may be better in ABQ, but what brought Khabilov nearly 7,000 miles from home was the training under Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. Henderson’s home base, “The Lab” in Glendale Arizona is run by an MMA mastermind named John Crouch. Crouch’s deeply rooted connection with Henderson has developed over the long career of his prized pupil. Though Jackson/Wink may be one of the best in the business, Henderson’s relationship with Crouch is much stronger. Advantage: Henderson
3) With whom lie the advantages derived from heaven and earth? (What advantages surround the fight?)
- To Khabilov’s benefit, the card takes place in Albuquerque meaning the Russian will have a sort of home court advantage. The undercard is filled with Jackson/Winkeljohn fighters which could build a sort of momentum for Khabilov to ride on. However, this is his first time headlining a UFC event, he’s never gone 5 rounds before, and he’s never had so much limelight on him. These are tall obstacles to overcome when dealing with Ben Henderson, a guy who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of anxiety. Advantage: Henderson
4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (Who's in better shape?)
- Bendo has gone a full 5 rounds a total of seven times in his career and never once slowed down in a fight. He arguably has the best cardio in the Light Weight division and he uses it as a weapon though constant pressure and a heavy offense. Khabilov has only gone the distance once in the UFC; a close scrap against Jorge Masvidal. In the final round Khabilol was still fresh enough to land a thunderous wheel kick and follow up with a barrage of punches. However, I doubt Khabilov can keep up his high-output style for 5 rounds against a guy like Henderson. Advantage: Henderson
5) Which army is stronger? (Who's stronger?)
- Watching Khabilov rag doll Vinc Pichel looked very scary. The guy is as powerful as they come and uses that strength to either throw hard shots or score takedowns. Henderson is no pushover though, the guy is huge for 155 and has legs like a running back. Both guys are strong, both guys like to clinch, but Khabilov looks like he can suplex a tank off the ground. Advantage: Khabilov
6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (Who's a more technical fighter?)
- Both guys are very well-rounded. They both mix punches, kicks, takedowns, submission, and clinch work very well. Khabilov likes to use his explosiveness and strength to impose his will. He throws powerful punches and kicks at range but leaves himself open to counters like he did against Jorge Masvidal. On the other hand, Bendo prefers to use proper technique to win fights, but is not afraid to use his athleticism to get himself out of trouble. Though they’re both good in every area, there is a reason they call him “Smooth.” Advantage: Henderson
7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment? (Who can finish the fight?)
- A legit Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Henderson has a superb guillotine but hasn’t finished an opponent since 2010. Tiger on the other hand knocks people out with his slams, and threw a wheel kick that sent the durable Masvidal tumbling to the mat. Advantage: Khabilov
THE PICK: How well Khabilov is able to handle Henderson’s pressure down the stretch will be the determining factor in this fight. Should the Russian not be able to finish, he must get an early and dominant lead on the score cards. A tall order against a guy in Ben Henderson who keeps his cool under fire, and who seems to always get the nod in close fights. Khabilov may come on strong at first, but Henderson’s pressure and pace will guide him to another Unanimous Decision.