The sport of mixed martial arts as we know it today is not only built on exciting fights with definitive finishes but compelling rivalries. These feuds, real or imagined, do wonders in driving interest in the outcome of a fight because, let's face it, two people winging punches at one another can only get you so far.
Bad blood means passion and that, perhaps more than any other invisible trait, translates extremely well to the television medium. It's not often legitimate issues arise and carry themselves out inside the cage or ring. But when they do, it's nothing short of extraordinary.
There are times when promoters take matters into their own hands and do what they can to create a feud. It isn't that they manufacture one, so much as foster an environment in which one can grow organically.
Easiest, most efficient way to do this in UFC? The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) house ... even for the coaches.
This is especially useful when a fighter is particularly difficult to market to the masses. Creative solutions aren't optional when large amounts of money are on the line -- they're absolutely necessary.
Enter Dan Henderson.
A phenomenal fighter who's had a long career in the sport, "Hendo," has a personality that even the most cunning con man would have trouble selling you on.
You want a laid back, California surfer type, who speaks softly and carries a big right hand? "Dangerous" Dan is your man. The problem, of course, is there isn't a big market of mixed martial arts fans that are paying customers willing to shell out the jack to see that. Not in a fight, anyway.
But maybe they would be if he was the proverbial "good guy" going up against a cocky and overconfident "bad guy" with a big mouth who never quite learned how to shut it.
Enter Michael Bisping.
The popular British heel was the perfect fit to coach the Spike TV reality show thanks to his previous stint as a contestant and to take it one step further, a winner of the third installment. With just one loss and 17 wins to his record it made just too much sense to make this match-up a reality.
To top off the cake, the show was dubbed "U.S. vs. U.K." and featured Henderson leading a pack of American protagonists against Bisping rallying his team of English antagonists. The war was on.
Just as was hoped for, Bisping played his role to perfection, turning up his obnoxious tendencies to enough of a degree that he managed to get under the skin of even the most nonchalant of individuals.
This also served the purpose of grabbing the viewing audience and making them want to live vicariously through Henderson, sharing in his frustration at every word uttered by his brash and audacious foe.
Which, of course, would make it that much sweeter if "Hollywood" was to knock him out when they finally met inside the cage.
The best part in all this, is that their scheduled showdown was reserved for July 11, 2009, at the biggest and most heavily promoted event in the history of the UFC, its landmark show -- number 100 (numerically, not literally).
The card was loaded with mega fights, included title defenses from both Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre, unquestionably the two biggest pay-per-view draws in the history of the sport. Henderson and Bisping, thanks to their 12-week cable TV promotional tour on TUF, made it on the poster as a part of a triple main event billing.
The stage, as they say, was set. Now it was time to (stand and) deliver.
The crowd, as expected, boisterously booed Bisping while they were hooting and hollering in favor of Henderson. All that remained between the two slinging leather was the refs orders. Once Mario Yamasaki gave the all clear with his usual, "Let's go, come on!" it was go time.
Right from the beginning, each fighters game plan was painfully obvious. Bisping was clearly hoping to implement his stick-and-move style with plenty of movement and just as much fancy footwork.
Henderson, meanwhile, was simply head-hunting, staying flat on his feet with his missile fist cocked and ready to unload just as soon as the right opportunity presented itself.
There were various spots in the first round that he launched that missile, but it never quite hit its mark with the necessary force to explode upon detonation.
But as the fight wore on, another fact became even more painfully obvious -- "The Count" was continually making the absolute worst mistake possible.
He was circling to his left.
This was so technically incorrect for one very simple reason ... "Hendo" is right handed. That missile, when he was sending it flying, was coming from the right side, directly at the area Bisping was moving straight into.
The first round was a foreshadowing of the second and ultimately what led to the Englishman's demise.
Again, this was so obvious to anyone watching with even a rudimentary knowledge of boxing, it was curious that Bisping seemed so oblivious to the fatal missteps he was taking.
This was driven home big time when he walked to his corner and they immediately lit him up, blasting him for doing the one thing that could get him killed in a match-up against Henderson.
"You're walking right on to the back hand, mate. Get off his back hand, it's absolutely pathetic. Moving to the right, move to the right, Mike."
Advice that, if heard, was almost completely disregarded.
Throughout the duration of the second frame, there were periods in which he would start to step right but immediately revert back to circling towards his left. Ringside color commentator Joe Rogan was quick to comment on it.
"Bisping, again, is circling towards his left, which is Dan Henderson's power side," he said. "As he goes towards his left, he runs into the big right hand of Dan Henderson and that's what his coach didn't want."
As if on cue, just four short seconds later, it happened.
Henderson throws one lazy inside kick but doesn't follow it up with anything. In his next movement, he slides in with yet another inside kick but loads up the missile right hand and sends it flying at Bisping's face, who powerlessly runs right into it.
"Hendo" explodes all the way through with the punch and Bisping hits the floor in a crumpled heap of flesh and failed hopes and dreams. Henderson, seeing his opponent fall, goes into absolute kill mode and finishes the job (which was already done) by sailing through the air and landing one more sickening blow as Bisping lay flat on his back, already in a different dimension.
Looking at this on repeat to analyze (and just because it's a great knockout), obviously Rogan was 100-percent correct that Bisping circling the wrong way was a terrible idea, and that's the biggest reason this knockout happens. But it's not the only one.
It probably isn't quite the same level error as it is in high-level boxing, where it's simply boxing 101, but it's a major tactical error, no matter what sport you're in. It's just always a bad idea to circle into the other guy's power hand, for what should be obvious reasons. Bisping should have been going the other way to keep Henderson's right hand away from him. Of course, he could have been worried about other factors, which is something you don't see in boxing because punches are the only offense.
Henderson definitely read the situation and was aiming for this. Bisping is just wide open for the big shot, and it's because Henderson sets him up so beautifully and then commits to the punch in the biggest way possible. The left kick Henderson uses as a distraction is the real key to this whole moment. The kick is a more of a distracting weapon than even a good set-up jab in boxing (take a look at Randall Bailey knocking out Frankie Figueroa for a good example), because it totally changes what Bisping is preparing to receive.
In moving to his left to avoid that kick, he locks his eyes on Henderson's face (or head, since "Hendo's" face is down) and never sees the haymaker right hand coming in. Bisping is both going to his left and awkwardly pulling back, which drops his left hand to his side as he tries to create room. By pulling back, he even winds up turning his jaw directly into the punch, even more of a sign that he truly did not see the punch coming in ... at all.
In the split second after the set-up kick, Bisping, more or less does every possible thing wrong that he could have and Henderson does the one perfect thing in that same second -- sells out on a monster right hand and scores an enormous knockout.
This knockout was so incredible, so unbelievably powerful and full of meaning, it immediately went down as one of the greatest knockouts in the entire history of organized MMA. It was truly that special.
The audience at home got their wish, as Henderson delivered in the best way he possibly could, finally landing a punch so hard that the arrogant Bisping was finally rendered speechless.
The unconscious part was a pleasant side bonus.
Surely, though, the customers purchasing and viewing on their TV sets couldn't compare, whatsoever, to the live audience of a reported 10,871 delirious fans in attendance at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Here's how he described the atmosphere in the building when Henderson sent Bisping's head into the cheap seats:
The crowd had become a little subdued to start the second round. Perhaps it was the alcohol -- UFC 100 was more of a celebration than an actual event that weekend -- or the notion that another decision (there were four up until that point) was on the horizon. However, our collective heads all snapped around, just like Bisping's, when Henderson connected with that laser. Children cheered. Women screamed. Grown men giggled. All at once, in chorus. It was unlike anything I have ever heard. Oohs, aahs, hi fives and "did you just fucking see that's?" followed quickly thereafter when the big screens flashed the devastation, over and over, to an awestruck audience. It continued for awhile, too -- it took them a long time to cart Bisping out of the Octagon. But the replays never ceased to impress. And they still don't ... more than two years and 30 major shows later. It's an epic knockout, one for the ages, that will stand the test of time. One that I might even tell my grandchildren about. It was that memorable.
The knockout elevated this show to a level that earned it "Event of the Year" by most major publications. The importance of the moment added to the significance of the performance turned in by Henderson, who, if he wasn't before, was now a full blown American hero.
To this day, the videos and .gifs play on throughout mixed martial arts forums all over the Internet. By all means, please feel free to share your personal favorites in the comments section below.
And here's one more for the road showcasing Dan Henderson's legendary knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100.