Former Strikeforce middleweight kingpin, Luke Rockhold, and longtime top Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) contender, Michael Bisping, are set to scrap at UFC Fight Night 55 this Friday night (Nov. 7, 2014) inside Allphones Arena in Sydney, Australia.
Since losing to Vitor Belfort in dramatic fashion, Rockhold obliterated two top-15 opponents in less than a round combined. Though his requests for a chance to avenge the Belfort loss have gone unanswered thus far, he will get a chance to settle his score with Bisping.
Bisping's entire career consists of him gaining momentum and then losing to an elite fighter just before he reaches a title shot. Against Rockhold, "The Count" will get another chance to buck that trend and prove that he's still an elite middleweight.
Let's take a closer look at the skills of each fighter.
Bisping is the definition of a high-volume striker, as he uses his conditioning advantage and constant strikes to slowly wear his opponent down. Then, he can step up his aggression and brutalize his tired opponent.
For the most part, Bisping relies on his boxing. Utilizing his length and solid footwork, the Englishman works from the edge of his boxing range, often popping his opponent with the jab.
Once Bisping settles into his rhythm and establishes range, he'll begin to expand on his combinations, many of which are some mixture of the jab and right cross. That said, Bisping will attack with hooks as well and sometimes delivers punishing strikes to his opponent's body.
In his last couple fights, Bisping has kicked quite a bit more, starting with his decision victory over Alan Belcher. Similar to his boxing, Bisping relies on speed and volume rather than really digging into his roundhouse kicks. Though Bisping mostly sticks to damaging his opponent's legs, he will mix it up and go high.
Finally, it's an absolutely terrible idea to get tired when fighting "The Count." When Bisping senses that his opponent slows down, he really ramps up his aggression and extends his combinations. Not only will Bisping dig to the body more frequently, but he'll force exhausting clinch exchanges and land damaging knees as well.
Rockhold, a Southpaw, is an excellent striker with legitimate power behind his blows. Though he frequently pressures his opponent, Rockhold is mostly a counter striker.
Though Rockhold attacks with the jab and his left straight quite well, his money punch is undoubtedly the right hook. After moving his opponent to the fence with his strikes, many of them will attempt to push Rockhold back with punches of their own. That's Rockhold's favorite time to attack with the right hook, as he counters right over the top of those punches.
As one of the largest fighters in the middleweight division, Rockhold is able to attack with heavy kicks from a large distance. He'll frequently look for leg kicks and teeps early to establish his range, and then will attack with nasty body kicks or head kicks. In particular, Rockhold is excellent at making his opponent circle into the liver kick, a deadly weapon in any competent Southpaw's arsenal.
In this regard, both men are quite similar. Though both are capable with offensive shots, they're more well-known for being incredible counter wrestlers.
Offensively, both fighters like to shoot for a double against the fence when they do attempt a takedown. Neither man shoots enough to be forced to display more advanced technique, as the double usually works for them.
For years, Bisping has been a tough man to wrestle. He's a fairly large middleweight, which makes overpowering him in the clinch a difficult proposition. In addition, he's got a strong sprawl and whizzer, and his lengthy style of striking gives him enough distance to read most takedown attempts.
Still, Bisping's never been impossible to takedown. Prior to his loss to Tim Kennedy, Bisping had always been able to work his way back to his feet relatively quickly, often using the fence to return to his feet.
As one of the premier wall-walkers in the sport, Bisping always did one thing extraordinarily well: he never allowed his opponent to settle. Once Bisping fell to the mat, he'd immediately begin working for an underhook or applying pressure on an overhook.
Regardless of what position he found himself in, Bisping was in the process of getting back up.
Whether Kennedy's positional dominance was due to Bisping's physical decline or Kennedy's crushing top game has yet to be seen, but I'm personally very interested to see how Bisping handles the next grappler he takes on.
Rockhold's striking game revolves around maintaining distance much more heavily than Bisping has done. That means his opponent is often forced to shoot from the edge of the 6'3" fighter's range, which simply won't work against a combatant as athletic as Rockhold. Furthermore, Rockhold excels at countering his opponent's wrestling attempts, but that will be covered in the jiu-jitsu section.
Though I've believed that Bisping is perhaps the best at technically working back to his feet for years, Rockhold also made a solid case for himself in his performances against Ronaldo Souza and Tim Kennedy.
Rockhold is rarely taken down in the center of the cage and will quickly get his back to fence when he is. Once he's sitting up and leaning on the fence, he'll fight for an underhook and look to stand. If he's truly stuck, Rockhold will turtle up and explode. This may momentarily expose his back, but his opponents have not yet been able to take advantage.
In addition, Rockhold likes to use the switch from his back. From the aforementioned position -- on his butt, back against the cage -- he will reach by his opponent's double leg and look for a single leg of his own. Instead of trying to finish the single, Rockhold will create just enough space to spring back to his feet.
Utilizing these techniques, Rockhold was not only able to stymie Souza's offensive grappling, he was also able to tire out the dangerous Brazilian.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Bisping is not much of a jiu-jitsu player, as he's more focused on returning to his feet. On the other, Bisping's defensive jiu-jitsu is solid, as he's survived some bad positions underneath dangerous grapplers. In fact, Bisping doesn't usually just survive, he escapes and then gets back to his feet.
On the other hand, Rockhold's jiu-jitsu is a proven commodity. Currently a black belt, Rockhold has competed in the No Gi Worlds a few times, winning at both blue and purple belt.
Most of Rockhold's jiu-jitsu occurs immediately after he sprawls out on his opponent and traps him in turtle. From this position, he frequently circles to his opponent's back and hunts for the rear-naked choke.
That's part of how he won four straight fights in Strikeforce via rear naked choke without landing any takedowns.
In his last fight, Rockhold sprawled on Tim Boestch's single leg, but "Barbarian" held on to the limb. Rather than try to clear the grip, Rockhold shot his leg through and wrapped up Boestch's head and arm in an inverted triangle.
Eventually, Rockhold reversed Boestch to his back and finished a kimura, but the setup came from the sprawl. This is a prime example of Rockhold adapting his game to counter his opponent's wrestling with his own offense, and it allowed him to finish a tough foe in impressive fashion.
Finally, Rockhold often uses the kimura in his attempts to stand up. Whenever his opponent looks to move towards his back, Rockhold will latch onto the kimura and stand up. He'll then use the hold to break his opponent's grip and prevent him from gaining control.
Best chance for success
This is quite a tough match for Bisping. Purely looking at skills, there's not really a technical path for victory for Bisping. He can't even rely on his usual conditioning advantage, as Rockhold is a veteran of five round bouts.
To upset his opponent, Bisping will need to adjust his striking style a bit. He can still utilize his high-volume kickboxing, but Bisping really needs to plant his feet and swing for the fences whenever Rockhold is against the fence or overextending himself.
Simply put, Bisping needs to either seriously hurt Rockhold and win some rounds through damage or finish the Californian in order to get the victory here.
On the other hand, this is a bit of a showcase bout for the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA)-trained fighter. Rockhold is the superior athlete, striker, and has the ability to punish Bisping's takedown attempts, which Bisping occasionally turns to when faced with a more dangerous striker.
However, it's very important that Rockhold make a serious statement here. There are other contenders building solid resumes in the middleweight division. so Rockhold really needs a dominant performance here to stand out.
Will Bisping overcome the odds and claim victory, or will Rockhold live up to expectations and send his opponent packing?