Top 10-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweights Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy will put their trash talk-fueled feud to rest in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Nations" Finale, airing live at 7 p.m. EST on FOX Sports 1 tonight (April 16, 2014) from Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
No. 5-ranked Bisping has been out of mixed martial arts (MMA) action since defeating Alan Belcher at UFC 159 in April 2013. Sidelined by surgery for a detached retina, "Count" was looking for a bigger name opponent than Kennedy, but ultimately succumbed to the nonstop goading of the former Army Ranger.
No. 8-ranked Kennedy was last seen knocking out Rafael Natal at UFC Fight Night 31: "Fight for Troops 3" in November 2013. "Sniper" has won the only two bouts he's fought in the Octagon, but now he's received a massive step up in competition.
Bisping has a penchant for defeating all but the highest ranked of challengers; it's there that he has fallen painfully short in what has been an otherwise stellar career. It's on Kennedy to prove he belongs on this short list of elite competition.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Bisping vs. Kennedy:
Record: 24-5 overall, 14-5 UFC
Key Wins: Alan Belcher (UFC 159), Brian Stann (UFC 152), Jason Miller (TUF 14 Finale), Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 120)
Key Losses: Dan Henderson (UFC 100), Rashad Evans (UFC 78), Vitor Belfort (UFC on FX 7), Wanderlei Silva (UFC 110), Chael Sonnen (UFC on FOX 2)
Keys to Victory: TUF 3 winner Bisping has mainly relied on his accurate kickboxing and impressive footwork during his nearly ten-year MMA career. However, without a finish since 2011, Bisping is beginning to gain a reputation as a point fighter.
That streak is going to be tough to end against Kennedy, who has only been finished once in his first professional MMA fight.
After a year on the sidelines that saw the UFC middleweight division become stacked up with championship level competitors, Bisping has a lot of catching up to do.
That begins against Kennedy. Bisping is going to implement a high volume of disrupting strikes, mixing up his jab with combinations and kicks. Kennedy showed knockout power in his last fight, but he hasn't always exhibited that kind of striking strength.
Bisping won't be afraid to mix it up on the feet, and he probably won't be too worried about Kennedy taking him down, either. "Count" maintains a solid 64 percent takedown defense rate and has never been submitted.
His confidence may be one of his best weapons against the mouthy Kennedy, but Bisping can't get overconfident. He's been out of the cage for quite some time and will most likely need a moment to get re-accustomed. Using his speed and keeping "Sniper's" shots at bay will help him get back on his horse.
Record: 16-4 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Rafael Natal (UFC Fight Night 31), Roger Gracie (UFC 162), Robbie Lawler (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson)
Key Losses: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (Strikeforce: Houston), Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy)
Keys to Victory: Kennedy has shown a stifling, effective style in his short Octagon stint. He isn't the most exciting or flashy of fighters, but it's hard to argue with his results. Like Bisping, he's only lost to the very best opponents. He also needs that one huge win.
For him, Bisping undoubtedly presents that opportunity.
To earn his greatest victory, Kennedy has to show up with a clear focus. He's spent a ton of time trying to get inside Bisping's head, but that most likely won't work given the long list of back-and-forth wars that "Count" has been a part of.
Letting Bisping find his groove and pick him apart is what he needs to prevent, so it's in his best interest to make this fight ugly. Pushing the action up against the cage to implement some dirty boxing from the clinch will benefit Kennedy, as will going for multiple takedowns. Most of them probably won't be secured, but they'll still go a long way in interrupting Bisping's striking.
The strategy won't earn him any new fans, but if it ends up leading to a win, that won't matter much.
Kennedy might try to to shock the world and knock out Bisping. If he can, he'll join Henderson and Belfort in an illustrious fraternity of the only men to do so. While that's an unlikely outcome, Kennedy seems very brash and aloof heading into this bout.
We'll see if that helps or hurts Kennedy tonight.
Bottom Line from Quebec City: The bottom line for this fight is that it has some big shoes to fill. After making a career out of being the trash-talking bad boy, Bisping became the victim of the verbal attacks in the buildup to this fight.
That's quite the departure from "Count's" prior antics. Still, he's appeared very angry at the pre-fight press conference and weigh-ins, so Kennedy could have a monster on his hands.
Kennedy is in an odd position because he's talked so much that he almost has to win. He'll look incredibly foolish if he campaigned so hard for the bout, got it, and then spouted off at the mouth before losing to his rival.
Fights fueled by bad blood and trash talk have rarely delivered as of late, with Bisping's UFC 159 win over Belcher, UFC 171's Hector Lombard vs. Jake Shields, and UFC on FOX 8's Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Shields being glaring examples.
With a reputation as a boring fighter, Kennedy not only has to deliver on his words by winning, but do it impressively. That's a tall order, and if we see a fully healthy Bisping return in top form, "Sniper" may receive his just desserts.
After an all-out assault of trash talk, Tim Kennedy finally has the opponent he wants in Michael Bisping. Will the Army veteran send "Count" packing in Quebec?