Long-time Top 10-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight, Michael Bisping, will try to move up the 185-pound ladder by taking out Strikeforce veteran, Tim Kennedy, this Wednesday night (April 16, 2014) in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Nations" Finale main event from Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
Since his drop from Light Heavyweight in 2008, Bisping has hung around the bottom half of the divisional rankings. Every time Bisping would get on a win streak or close in on a title shot, he'd lose when he stepped up in competition. Having lost to Vitor Belfort's shin just two fights ago, Bisping is currently in the process of building back up to the top.
Coming off of multiple injuries and a recent thirty-fifth birthday, this may be Bisping's last chance at a title run. If the Brit disposes of the surging Kennedy, he puts himself among the top two or three contenders and in position for a title eliminator match.
But, does the English mixed martial arts (MMA) pioneer have the skills to defeat the grappling specialist?
Let's take a closer look.
Likely the division's finest volume striker, Bisping is an experienced kickboxer. Even though he's often criticized by fans for his "pillow fists," Bisping has finished 14 of his opponents via (technical) knockout, including multiple finishes inside the Octagon.
Regardless of whether he's circling around his foe or heavily pressuring him, Bisping moves very well. He's light on his feet, which allows him to quickly switch between movement and strikes. In addition, Bisping's footwork lets him dictate the distance.
Despite his fairly large stature, Bisping is an exceptionally conditioned fighter. Plus, he's usually faster than his opponents. To fully utilize these two advantages, Bisping throws a ton of strikes and always moves. It's exhausting for his opponent to try and keep up, which is why Bisping usually does better as the fight goes on.
Bisping has a very active lead hand. His jab is sharp, well-timed, and Bisping feints constantly to hide it. He also throws the left hook frequently, often in combination with the jab. By hooking off the jab, jabbing to reestablish distance after throwing his left hook, and feinting all the while, "The Count" makes it very difficult for his opponent to predict what punch he's throwing next with his left hand.
Though his right hand is more predictable, Bisping uses effectively. Bisping almost never throws his right hand without at least a single left handed strike first. The 1-2 is likely his most utilized combination, but he also uses the double jab-right cross and left hook-right cross. These two and three punch combinations make up the majority of Bisping's striking game, at least in the beginning.
In his last bout, Bisping showed some improvements to his counter game. As Belcher half-committed to punches or came up short, Bisping would stay in range. After Belcher stopped swinging, Bisping would follow up with a few strikes. This kept Bisping in Belcher's face even more, tiring him out and doing damage.
Once Bisping's opponent starts to slow down, he'll start to put more weight behind his strikes. He still throws a high volume of punches, but he begins to work in harder hooks and uppercuts. He'll even occasionally dig to the body with strikes as his opponent covers up. Bisping is especially aggressive against tired foes, never letting up the pressure until his opponent crumbles.
Despite his base as a kickboxer, Bisping primarily boxes inside the Octagon. However, he has long used inside and outside leg kicks to further increase his movement advantage. Bisping's footwork allows him to disguise these kicks amidst his constant movement, and he throws them quickly. In his last fight with Belcher, Bisping used a greater variety of kicks more often, shifting to body and head kicks.
Bisping showed that he is deceptively strong inside the clinch against a world-class wrestler in Chael Sonnen. The two repeatedly spun off the cage and reversed positions, but overall Bisping controlled "The American Gangster" more and landed better knees. When facing a less talented wrestler in Brian Stann, Bisping used his dirty boxing to disguise takedowns, roughing up the "All American" in close. Finally, Bisping usually does a good job exiting the clinch with a punch or combination.
For the most part, Bisping's movement keeps him away from his opponent's power punches, especially if his foe tries to play his game. However, Bisping absorbs more damage when his opponent aggressively charges him down. He doesn't always react well to the pressure, backing straight up and allowing his opponent to tee off on him if he gets pinned against the cage.
Bisping's wrestling has steadily improved across his UFC career, especially defensively. When Bisping wants to take his opponent to the mat, he almost always shoots for a power double leg, pushes his opponent into the cage, then lifts his hips away from the cage and slams him to the mat. In the last couple years, Bisping used his double to control Stann for a decision victory and managed to take down Sonnen early in a close loss.
For whatever reason, Bisping's lack of standing power does not transfer to his ground striking. Once he gets on top, Bisping drops strong punches. He usually stands above his opponent and throws flurries. If his opponent decides to turtle up, Bisping will drive hard knees into the mid-section. Many of Bisping's technical knockouts actually come from his ground and pound, as it's one of his most effective skills.
Bisping is a very difficult man to takedown thanks in large part to his movement-heavy striking style. Bisping is constantly shifting laterally, which makes lining up a double leg rather difficult. Plus, he likes to strike from a fairly lengthy distance. Since he prefers volume striking to stepping into power punches, it's not easy to catch him off-balance from punching.
To counter his opponent's shot, Bisping has a strong sprawl and whizzer. If his opponent does manage to close the distance, either in the clinch or by pinning him against the cage, he's still hard to control, as he always works for underhooks and attempts to circle away.
"The Count" has stuffed some of the best wrestlers in MMA such as Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans.
Bisping is the poster boy for getting off of the mat quickly. In my opinion, there's no one better at scrambling and wall-walking after a takedown. Bisping does it perfectly, and any fighters looking for a model to follow in this technique should look no further.
Once Bisping is taken down, he scoots toward the fence. To do this, he pushes away at his opponent and shrimps his hips. As his opponent clings to him, Bisping pummels for an underhook. Once he secures one, he'll lean into it and create space. He may eat a few punches, but Bisping will immediately stand up from this position. This results in him back on his feet, in the clinch, already with an underhook.
If Bisping fails to get an underhook, he'll overhook his opponent's arm and do a whizzer. This still creates the space necessary to stand back up, it just leaves him in a less desirable position in the clinch.
Perhaps the most important aspect of wall-walking -- and returning to the feet in general -- is to never allow the top wrestler to secure a position. Bisping does not ever rest on his back or settle in guard, he immediately starts to move. If he fails to stand up, he ends up in a bad position, but Bisping usually succeeds in his stand up.
Bisping is not much of an offensive submission grappler. From his back, he focuses on scrambling, and he likes to deliver ground and pound while on top. If Bisping is unable to scoot to the fence and is forced to his guard, he likes to attack with an armbar from the full guard. In addition to threatening Denis Kang with an armbar, he finished Ross Pointon with one just prior to his UFC debut.
Defensively, Bisping is quite sound. He controls posture well inside his guard and is able to block or deflect most ground strikes. Though his guard is not impossible to pass, he's very calm in bad positions and works to get back to his guard. For example, American Top Team-trained black belt Denis Kang managed to mount Bisping a few times after rocking him, but the Brit's elbow escape put him back in guard every time.
Best Chance For Success
Despite the relatively close odds on this match up, Bisping is at a huge stylistic advantage and can rely on his standard style of fighting to defeat the Greg Jackson-trained product. It's not that Kennedy isn't a Top 10 fighter or close to Bisping in terms of skill, it's just a very bad match up for him.
On the feet, Bisping has a fairly large advantage. He's taller, longer, more mobileand overall a better striker than Kennedy. Kennedy does possess the dogged determination and aggression that has hurt Bisping in the past, but despite his last win, he's not a huge power puncher.
In terms of wrestling, Kennedy does not have the explosiveness to blast Bisping off his feet like Sonnen, nor does he have the striking-to-wrestling blend of Evans. Plus, Bisping's ability to return to his feet will nullify the few successful takedowns.
Add in the fact that Kennedy won't have his usual conditioning advantage and it should be clear the reason Bisping doesn't need to divert from his normal game. It might be smart to circle into Kennedy's right -- away from that leaping hook -- a bit more than usual, but that's about the only adjustment Bisping should make to his high volume boxing.
Can Bisping cruise past Kennedy en route to the title or will Kennedy force "The Count" to make a mistake?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Kennedy be sure to click here.