Michael Bisping will set aside bubbling rivalries with Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman to put his newly earned Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight title on the line against his oldest nemesis, mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Dan Henderson, tonight at UFC 204. It's a grudge match for the ages and one that only goes down live on pay-per-view (PPV) from inside Manchester Arena in Manchester, England.
At 46 years of age, Henderson doesn't have much left in the tank outside of a powerful right hand and some surprising elbows to the temple (just ask Hector Lombard). But his veteran toughness and ability to absorb damage make him a surprisingly difficult challenge for Bisping. While "The Count" is coming into this fight off a knockout victory over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199, he will encounter a more focused and driven Henderson later this evening. It's certainly a risk for Bisping who still needs to validate his title reign with a defense over a certified top contender, but one that will look great on his resume and feel good in his soul.
Before the two middleweights lock horns at UFC 204, we take a closer look at what both Bisping and Henderson need to do to leave Manchester with the UFC championship wrapped around their waist.
1. Utilize the clock...
This is going to be a five-round affair and whenever Bisping is in a five-round affair the advantage is usually in his favor. As the very best cardio middleweight in MMA today, "The Count" is able to sustain a high level of output for an astonishing amount of time. That makes him equally dangerous in the fifth round as he is in the first.
With that type of longevity on his side, Bisping would be foolish not to welcome deep water against Henderson. While "Hendo" has been known to exchange for eternity and score come-from-behind knockout finishes against the best of the best, he's not what he once was. And considering Henderson will be chasing Bisping down most of the fight, he'll tire even quicker if he leans on his knockout power.
All Bisping has to do is utilize the clock, take his time, let the finish form on its own and cash in on his own prediction to stop Henderson in the third round.
2. Neutralize from the outside...
Even though Henderson's best chance to win the fight will be with his punching power, it's more than likely that he ends up along the cage at some point in time. After all, Henderson will need an area to recoup if Bisping is able to light him up with volume. What better place for the old man to catch his breath than against the steel fence?
In order to stop Henderson from having any outs on the feet if he's feeling vulnerable to Bisping's precision and speed, the champion must remain on the outer edges. He's longer than Henderson, better built for in-and-out exchanges and understands when and where to get out of harm's way. If Bisping is unsuccessful at staying away from the former Olympic wrestler's grasp, this title fight may see some cage, or canvas, time.
1. Lean on his grappling...
While Bisping offers solid takedown defense and the ability to land dirty boxing inside the clinch. Henderson cannot be afraid to mix it up along the cage with the champion. It's an area where he can score points to the body, sap some of Bisping's high energy cell and look for a possible takedown.
Henderson shouldn't spend too much time in the clinch because he's going to tire as well along the way. But if he finds it difficult to stay away from Bisping's combinations and counter left, dragging the champion in closer will be a good way to buy some time.
2. Find a home for the right...
There are a few different sequences that end in victory for Henderson, but the majority of them encounter his powerful right hand. So even though Henderson has recently installed a head kick to his offensive arsenal, as well as a nine-to-three elbow, odds are he's going to throw his right hand more than anything.
The interesting thing is that everyone else that will be there at UFC 204, including Bisping himself, know exactly what Henderson is going to try to do. With limited five-round cardio and a deteriorated chin, Henderson doesn't have much time to land a "H-Bomb." But just because Bisping knows that Henderson is gunning for his head doesn't necessarily mean he can stop it. After all, Bisping was already faster and more versatile on his feet when "Hendo" knocked him out the first time.
All it takes is one.
Prediction: Bisping via second-round TKO
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 204 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.