Chael Sonnen ought to send a Christmas card to whomever cranked the kimura that injured Mark Munoz, because he gets a stylistically great replacement in Michael Bisping at UFC on Fox 2 this weekend (Sat., Jan. 28, 2012) at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
With just one win standing between him and a rematch against middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Sonnen's challenge (with Munoz's withdrawal) went from taking on a hell-on-wheels heavy-handed wrestler and friend, to a longtime rival he's long wanted to fight and would probably do so for free.
Bisping, originally slated to face Demian Maia, gets Sonnen and a huge opportunity in return. He can upset the apple cart, and the UFC's biggest potential pay-per-view headliner in the near future, by knocking off Sonnen.
To do so, Bisping will have to pitch a perfect game.
Style-wise, the winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3 winner is the classic ‘tweener. He's a decent striker, with good conditioning and tactics, but lacks a dominant core skill that will allow him to take over fights against world-class competition. With neither a strong wrestling pedigree nor power in his striking, Bisping has consistently looked great against mediocre competition, while coming up short against elite opponents.
Dropping down to 185 pounds mitigated some of the size issues he had against bigger wrestlers in Rashad Evans and Matt Hamill, but thus far, even at middleweight, he has shown obvious signs of the ‘tweener curse. Bisping doesn't lack for conditioning, heart and the willingness to map out a gameplan and stick to it, but at times he just doesn't seem to have to ability to beat the better fighters.
A recipient of, at times, kid-gloves matchmaking on part of the UFC, Bisping's losses to Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva were followed by cautiously chosen opponents in an effort to build him up as he's the UFC's main attraction in the United Kingdom.
Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC on FOX 2 co-main event fight between Chael Sonnen vs. Michael Bisping:
Sonnen's last showing -- an overpowering second round submission of Brian Stann -- marked him looking as good as he ever has. Relentless in his approach, Sonnen's stand up is easy to overlook, as he uses it essentially to set up clinches and takedowns, but it's technically sound. He'll throw sharp punches from his southpaw stance, gauge the distance, and keep striking or close the gap as necessary. Bisping has been working on settling down and putting more heft in his punches, as at times he's been too focused on flitting in and out, a tactic that Dan Henderson exploited to brutal effect.
Sonnen's biggest chink in his armor is his susceptibility to submissions, with eight of his 11 career defeats via that route. However, that is somewhat misleading, as three were to Jeremy Horn, and others to Paulo Filho, Demian Maia, Renato Sobral, Forrest Griffin and Trevor Prangley, most of these at 205 pounds. At middleweight, Sonnen represents as good a combination of takedowns and punishing top control as there is in the division, and he has the conditioning and relentless approach to exploit anyone who can't fight him off once he forces a clinch.
For Bisping, he's got to stay vertical, especially early. To be effective, right-hand leads are always effective against a southpaw, a punch which Bisping can throw well. He'll also have to make sure to circle away from Sonnen's lead right foot to create more space and cut down on takedown opportunities, and keep his hips back and clear when Chael clinches. Sonnen is perfectly happy to tie up and jam his opponent against the fence, where he'll work a dizzying succession of takedown attempts and uncork general mayhem to create openings. Bisping has to circle off the cage and use the middle, and angles, score points while preventing Sonnen from turning it into a phone-booth battle.
Bisping's defensive Brazilian jiu-jitsu won't likely be enough to submit Sonnen, but he does have improved ability to scramble back to his feet, too, negating opponents trying to punish him from the top, something he did very well against Evans in what was essentially a dreadfully uneventful fight.
This is Sonnen's fight to lose, and it's no accident oddsmakers have installed him as a 5-1 favorite. Style-wise, Bisping offers the perfect live sacrifice for building up a megabucks rematch between Sonnen and Silva. Look for Sonnen to gauge the angles and distance early and force a tie-up and takedown in the first three minutes of the opening stanza.
From there, his top control will prove unlike anything Bisping's ever experienced.
Sonnen's ground and pound and the way he uses positional advancement and consistent punishment is a rare combination of intensity and smarts. And you have to like how he smashes opponents wherever he can, whether it's in the ribs, or the double Mongolian chop when they're trying to cinch underhooks from the bottom. Sonnen's work rate from the top runs people out of gas and he only gets stronger -- provided he's not caught in a fight-changing submission, something that is doubtful Bisping can do.
Over the second and third round the pattern will become obvious. Bisping doesn't have the big-time power or takedown defense to deter Sonnen, who will deliver an increasingly one-sided beating en route to a clear-cut decision win.
Sonnen via unanimous decision
Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC on FOX 2 results of all the "Evans vs. Davis" action on primetime. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the "Prelims" under card bouts, and of course, the network telecast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 5 p.m. ET and carry straight on through into early Saturday morning.
See you then!
Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst