The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3 winner, Michael Bisping, will face Brazilian "Phenom" Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC on FX 7 this Saturday night (Jan. 19 2013) at the Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Bisping is approaching his eighteenth career Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight. Despite a long and successful mixed martial arts (MMA) career inside the Octagon, the British import has yet to earn an elusive Middleweight title shot.
In just a few days, however, Bisping will have an opportunity -- perhaps his last -- to finally earn a title shot against middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva if he can find away around "The Phenom."
Does Bisping have the MMA skills to defeat Belfort and potentially bring a belt back to England later in 2013?
Let's find out:
All of Bisping's wins have one thing in common: he lands more than his opponent. In fact, he is statistically the 185-pound division's best volume striker. And although his busy-but-not-powerful style has earned him the moniker "Pillow Fists," Bisping has finished 14 of his 23 wins via (technical) knockout.
The most important aspect of his striking is his constant footwork and movement. Bisping dances around his opponents, peppering them with jabs before he cuts angles, steps in, and throws crisp straight right hands. While he will mix in some low kicks and hooks, Bisping's one-two combination is by far his most used weapon.
Bisping is a pretty big middleweight, with a solid reach, but is generally faster than his opponents, making a high volume, stick-and-move style an especially successful approach.
Bisping will continue to land his one-two combination until his opponent begins to slow down. Once his opponent fatigues, Bisping will put more weight into his punches, and really rip uppercuts and hooks to the head and/or body. "The Count" is at his best when he's teeing off on a wounded opponent, not letting up the pressure until the fight is stopped.
Bisping is also deceptively strong in the clinch. He was able to nullify Chael Sonnen's clinch assault, repeatedly turning him back to the fence and landing knees to the body. More recently, Bisping decided that trading punches with Brian Stann was too dangerous and used some excellent dirty boxing to disguise his takedowns.
While Bisping's movement and footwork keep him away from most danger, persistent pressure eventually breaks through his defense. Bisping doesn't like being pushed backward with long combinations and loses his composure as a result. He'll begin to back straight up and often lower his hands, which causes him to get dropped a lot.
The most famous of Bisping's defensive failures, the incredible Dan Henderson knockout at UFC 100, is a prime example of the above. Henderson is pushing Bisping backwards and lands an inside leg kick, which causes Bisping to inexplicably lower his hands. A massive right hand folds Bisping like a lawn chair and puts an exclamation point on the holes in Bisping's defensive game.
In the six years Bisping has been in the UFC, his offensive wrestling has evolved from passable to very good. Bisping almost always shoots for a power double leg, pushes his opponent into the cage, then lefts their hips away from the cage, slamming them to the mat. Bisping outwrestled Stann to win his most recent fight and also managed to takedown Olympic alternate, Sonnen, in the fight before that.
Once Bisping takes an opponent down, he throws some very powerful ground-and-pound. What Bisping lacks in one punch knockout power standing, he makes up for with aggressive flurries, which account for a majority of his (technical) knockout finishes. Bisping likes to stand up in guard and lean over his opponent, throwing punches straight down to inflict even more damage.
If his opponent turtles up, he'll attack with knees to the body.
Bisping has excellent takedown defense. The biggest benefit of his stick-and-move boxing style is that he isn't off balance from throw power shots, so it is much harder to take him down between strikes. If an opponent shoots, "The Count" has an excellent sprawl and a hard whizzer. He's also very hard to take down from the clinch, constantly pummeling for under hooks and trying to spin out of the clinch. Bisping has fought some of the best wrestlers in MMA such as Sonnen, Rashad Evans and Matt Hamill, but none of them have been able to control him for the entire fight.
The most impressive part of Bisping's MMA game isn't his takedown defense, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or even his striking. In my opinion, Bisping's ability to scramble back to his feet -- or more specifically wall walk (when a fighter gets his back to the cage and inches his way back to his feet) -- is the best in the sport. Every fighter who has ever been held down by a wrestler should spend some time watching Bisping wall walk and then immediately go practice.
Once Bisping is taken down, he will immediately start to hip escape until he is sitting up, leaning on the cage. As he's doing this, he is fishing for an under hook. Once he gets the under hook, he'll lean into it to create space, and then stand up. Once he gets back to his feet, he will be in the clinch with at least one under hook, a position where he is very skilled.
A very important aspect of wall walking is never letting the fighter on top secure his position. Once a skilled wrestler establishes top position, getting back to standing is incredibly difficult. Bisping understands this well -- the second he touches the mat he is immediately scrambling to get to the fence.
Bisping has focused all his time on getting back to his feet, not submitting his opponent, so his offensive jiu-jitsu game isn't that developed. When he's on his back, and not scrambling toward the fence, Bisping prefers full guard and his favorite submission is the arm bar, which he attempted on Denis Kang and finished Ross Pointon with.
For Bisping's MMA game, defensive submission grappling is much more important. Even though his takedown defense is excellent, all fighters end up in bad positions at times and it's important to be able to defend submissions.
Bisping's defensive ground game is very good. From the guard, he uses strong hand control to prevent his opponent from landing hard punches. "The Count's" guard has been passed before, but he has shown excellent composure when in bad positions. Kang -- an American Top Team-trained black belt -- mounted Bisping a few times, and each time Bisping elbow escaped back to his guard.
A very important aspect of Bisping's game is his conditioning. He is constantly moving, feinting and jabbing, which is only a good strategy if the fighter has the cardio to do it for three (or in this case five) hard rounds. Bisping routinely has close first rounds, or loses them, before his opponent starts to slow down. It doesn't have to be a dramatic gas, like Jorge Rivera's, it can simply be his opponent is just a step slower.
Once he smells blood, Bisping will get very aggressive. "The Count" will start to push forward more, attack the body and put all his power behind his hooks. Once his opponent is tired and eating punches, the fight is over, as a full gas tank is mandatory if a fighter wants to pressure Bisping enough to exploit his defense.
An excellent example of Bisping's conditioning winning a fight is his match against MMA's wildman, Jason Miller. "Mayhem" came out aggressive in the first round, landing looping punches and getting a few takedowns, although he couldn't hold down the Brit. Then, he completely gassed. Whether it was an adrenaline dump, a fear of treadmills, or whatever Shane Carwin said happened to him, a big part of "Mayhem's" fatigue was Bisping's incredible pace. After Miller tired, Bisping battered him, landing brutal hooks and knees to the body to score a third round ground-and-pound finish.
Best chance for success
Bisping is in danger for the first five minutes of this five round fight, and he should be smart enough to know it. He absolutely should not engage with Belfort standing in the first round. Belfort really only flurries when he is countering, so if Bisping doesn't attack, Belfort won't throw very much. Bisping should stick to leg kicks and takedown attempts for the first five minutes, and watch Belfort's gas tanks drift toward empty.
Winning this round on the judges' scorecards should not be Bisping's top priority ... it should be survival.
If Bisping can get out of the first round, his chances of winning increase dramatically. A vast majority of Belfort's wins are in the first round, and while he is still dangerous in the second, he is no longer a "Phenom." Once out of the first, Bisping can open up with his one-two combination. Bisping should still stay cautious in the second, but most of his attacks will land without too much danger.
After the second, Bisping is pretty much in the clear. Unless Belfort has completely changed up his style and training, he will be tired by the third. Bisping excels at smashing tired opponents, so this should be his wheelhouse.
If Bisping wants to guarantee his title shot, he needs to finish Belfort in the championship rounds. Take him down, and demolish him with ground and pound. Belfort has folded under the pressure of ground-and-pound before, so it's not impossible that the 35-year-old will wilt again.
Will Bisping be the second British fighter in UFC history to fight for a title or will "The Phenom" decapitate "The Count" for another career highlight?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Belfort be sure to click here.