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Bellator 292 Lightweight Championship: Usman Nurmagomedov Battles Benson Henderson

March is a time for tournaments. Every year, right around this time, you start to hear talk about brackets, selections, and possible upsets throughout the month. While March Madness is still a few days away and the countdown to Selection Sunday is on, this Friday night, college basketball takes a back seat to MMA.

Bellator MMA holds its third show of 2023 on Friday night to kick off the combat sports weekend with Bellator 292. Scott Coker’s promotion sets up shop in California for the second time in as many months. The SAP Center in San Jose plays host to Bellator 292 and a Lightweight Grand Prix quarterfinal in the Bellator 292 main event of the evening.

Nurmagomedov Battles Henderson for Semifinal Berth in Bellator 292 Main Event

The Bellator MMA Lightweight World Grand Prix begins on Friday night with the first two quarterfinals of the tournament. All fights in this Grand Prix bracket are an advertised maximum of five rounds at five minutes per round.

The opening night of the tournament is highlighted by a battle for the Bellator MMA Lightweight Championship in the headliner. Incumbent champion Usman Nurmagomedov (16-0 MMA, 5-0 Bellator) meets challenger (and No. 3 contender) Benson Henderson (30-11 MMA, 7-6 Bellator) for the belt.

If Usman Nurmagomedov is defeated during any phase of the Bellator MMA Lightweight World Grand Prix, so goes his championship and the tournament champion will become the permanent titleholder. After Friday’s opening quarterfinal fights, the tournament will resume on May 12 in Paris.

Bellator 292 Main Event Fighter Comparison and Betting Odds

Heading into the Bellator 292 main event on Friday night, champion Usman Nurmagomedov stands as the taller competitor at 5-foot-9, compared to the 5-foot-8 frame of Benson Henderson. In addition, Nurmagomedov owns a two-inch reach advantage (72 inches to 70 inches) over Henderson.

As of Monday afternoon, the oddsmakers have Usman Nurmagomedov installed as the largest favorite on the card (-2000), with Benson Henderson countering as a +1400 underdog. If you plan on betting on this or any other fight happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.

Usman Nurmagomedov Owes Success to Mentor, Cousin Khabib

Usman Nurmagomedov, the cousin of former longtime UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0 MMA, 13-0 UFC), who retired from the sport after defeating Justin Gaethje (23-4 MMA, 6-4 UFC) in 2020, has yet to lose in his MMA career, much like his cousin. Last time out, he defended the belt against Patricky Pitbull (Freire) (24-11 MMA, 15-9 Bellator) on Nov. 18 during Bellator 288.

Khabib has been by his cousin’s side all the way, something that Usman alluded to during the Lightweight World Grand Prix introductory press conference last month. This press conference took place a few weeks after Khabib announced that he was ending his career as an MMA coach.

“Khabib left the team, but not completely,” Nurmagomedov said, translated from Russian. “We still talk. He’s my brother. I can always come to him for advice. He asks what’s going on with me. Right now, he’s spending more time with the family. Nonetheless, he’s still in touch with all of us. If we need advice, we ask him.”

While Khabib Nurmagomedov’s time as a coach has passed, there’s no denying that he’s played a role in shaping how his cousin’s career has played out up to now. Rest assured, Khabib will be rooting Usman on this Friday in the Bellator 292 main event.

Benson Henderson Looking to Play Spoiler in Bellator 292 Main Event on Friday

In the other corner, Benson Henderson has posted a 2-3 record in his last five fights. Currently, he’s on a two-fight winning streak after experiencing a three-fight losing streak.

Last time out, he scored a unanimous decision victory over Peter Queally (13-8-1 MMA, 2-4 Bellator) on Sept. 23. Under Grand Prix rules, should the division champion, in this case, Usman Nurmagomedov, lose in any phase of the tournament, his championship reign ends.

Henderson is coming to the end of his MMA career, having inked a four-fight contract with Bellator almost a year ago. At the close of his current deal, he’ll retire from the sport as a competitor. He’s already won a lightweight championship in MMA, having secured the UFC‘s 155-lb. strap 11 years ago.

Now, with his career twilight in progress, Henderson finds himself with a chance to not only end his opponent’s undefeated reign but also play the role of spoiler and cost Usman Nurmagomedov the title. Can he pull off the upset in the Bellator 292 main event?

Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction

Stylistically, the Bellator 292 main event on Friday night looks to favor Benson Henderson, a former collegiate wrestler with black belts in both Taekwondo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, compared to Usman Nurmagomedov’s background as a Muay-Thai and Combat Sambo fighter.

Look For Usman Nurmagomedov to Use Kicking Game to His Advantage

Usman Nurmagomedov has been known to pepper his adversaries with kicks in the past. Manny Muro found this out the hard way in July of 2021. During the first round of a scheduled three, Nurmagomedov came out firing with kicks to Muro’s head, briefly stunning him in the process.

Upon the second kick landing, Nurmagomedov took Muro down, taking back mount against the cage fence. He hunted for a double-leg takedown, albeit unsuccessfully, briefly dumping him with a single-leg effort.

About two minutes into the round, Nurmagomedov took Muro down and tried to lock in a submission, but the latter turned his body to fight it off and get back to the clinch. From there, he landed a knee to the stomach, finishing Muro with a knee to the body.

Even though Nurmagomedov got in a few ground-and-pound shots to Muro’s head, the fight was a done deal already. If Usman Nurmagomedov is able to land decent kicks against Benson Henderson, he’ll remain the champion.

Benson Henderson Is Brutal With Leg Kicks

In the other corner, Benson Henderson can make Usman Nurmagomedov’s night miserable on Friday in the Bellator 292 main event if he scores with leg kicks during the fight. Throughout his 2019 contest against Myles Jury, Henderson periodically landed leg kicks on his opponent, causing Jury’s leg to go red.

During round two of the fight, Henderson’s leg kicks took their collective toll on Jury, affecting his movement and forcing Jury to abandon his game plan, causing him to become hesitant with throwing punches.

Henderson mixed up his strikes during this contest, but his attack was predicated on leg kicks, beginning the third and final round with two such blows. A third kick to the lead leg in the round’s opening moments set the tone for the final period.

Benson Henderson effectively took Myles Jury out of the fight with a barrage of kicks during the fight. Over the course of 15 minutes, he did everything correctly without scoring the knockout.

As long as Henderson is able to get out of the starting blocks quickly, he can disrupt Nurmagomedov’s game plan. He may fly out of San Jose having unseated Usman Nurmagomedov as the champion.

Final Thoughts

March is a month that’s known for upsets and tournaments. With the Bellator Lightweight World Grand Prix starting on Friday, could we see an upset in the Bellator 292 main event?

Prediction: Usman Nurmagomedov by Unanimous Decision.

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