Benson Henderson was the beneficiary of unfortunate circumstances.
A leg injury suffered by Patricio Freire resulted in a second-round technical knockout for Henderson in the Bellator 160 headliner on Friday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Freire (25-4) indicated he could no longer continue 2:26 into round two, the Brazilian suffering the first non-decision defeat of his 29-fight career.
Henderson (24-6) was ineffective, up until the anticlimactic stoppage. Freire stayed one step ahead of the former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder, slicing into him with occasional right hands and kicks to the legs and body. Midway through the second round, “Pitbull” clipped Henderson with a left hook, moved in and engaged at close quarters. Once the two separated, it became clear something was wrong. Freire turned his back and waved off the match.
The win made Henderson the No. 1 contender for Bellator MMA lightweight champion Michael Chandler’s crown. The two will lock horns on Nov. 19, with the 155-pound title hanging in the balance.
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In the lightweight co-main event, Team Xplode MMA rep Derek Anderson recorded his third victory in four appearances, as he picked up a unanimous decision against Saad Awad. All three cageside judges scored it for Anderson (14-2): 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
Neither man seemed willing to yield to the other in a highly entertaining scrap. A wild first round saw the two lightweights trade barbs on the feet and submission attempts on the ground, Awad (19-8) with a brabo choke and Anderson with a triangle. From the second round on, Anderson dictated much of the action. The 26-year-old advanced to the back late in round two, set his hooks and fished for a rear-naked choke. While the finish did not materialize, Anderson carried welcomed momentum into the third. There, he fired away with multi-strike bursts in the exchanges and chipped away with jabs and leg kicks during the respites in between.
Awaad, 33, has lost two of his last three bouts, both of them by decision.
Meanwhile, former World Series of Fighting and Tachi Palace Fights champion Georgi Karakhanyan knocked out Bubba Jenkins in the first round of their rematch at a 149-pound catchweight. Jenkins (11-3), who had been choked unconscious by a guillotine from the Millennia MMA rep in January 2015, met his end 53 seconds into round one.
Karakhanyan (25-6-1) caught a front kick to the body from the two-time NCAA All-American inside the first minute, backed him to the fence and unloaded with an overhand right. Jenkins, 28, fell face first to the mat and was defenseless against the attack that followed. Karakhanyan pounced with punches, forcing referee Blake Grice to intervene.
The loss snapped a two-fight losing streak for Karakhanyan. It marked the first time he had stopped an opponent with strikes in more than four years.
Elsewhere, A.J. McKee remained unbeaten, as he submitted Legacy Fighting Championship veteran Cody Walker with a second-round guillotine choke in a featherweight showcase. McKee (5-0), the son of former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder Antonio McKee, brought it to a close 32 seconds into round two.
Walker (7-5) had little to offer. McKee controlled and ultimately dominated the first five minutes, executing a takedown, navigating the guard and piling on punishment with ground-and-pound: Knees to the body, punches and elbows were all on the menu. The 21-year-old Californian slammed Walker to the canvas early in round two, caught a modified guillotine during a subsequent scramble and moved to a mounted position to force the tapout.
McKee has finished each of his first five opponents.
In other action, Joey Davis (1-0) -- the blue-chip prospect who went undefeated and won four national championships as an amateur wrestler at Notre Dame College in Euclid, Ohio -- made a successful professional debut and captured a three-round unanimous decision over Keith Cutrone in catchweight tilt at 175 pounds, prompting 30-27 scores across the board; Chinzo Machida (4-2), the older brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, wiped out Mario Navarro (4-5) with punches 2:57 into round one of their showdown at 145 pounds; Gabriel Green (2-0) cut down Alex Trinidad (1-1) with punches 2:01 into the second round of their lightweight encounter; Andy Murad (14-2) claimed a unanimous decision over Johnny Cisneros (9-5) in a three-round catchweight clash at 175 pounds, earning 29-28 marks from all three cageside judges; Jacob Rosales (4-2) was awarded a unanimous verdict against Mike Segura (4-4) in their 15-minute lightweight battle, drawing 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 scorecards from the judges; and Jake Roberts (7-0) took care of Stephen Martinez (11-5) with punches and elbows 4:24 into round one of their pairing at 155 pounds.