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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 217’s Michael Bisping

Steve Flynn — USA Today Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight strap-hanger, Michael Bisping, will defend his crown for the second time opposite one of the best ever, Georges St-Pierre, this Saturday (Nov. 4, 2017) at UFC 217 inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

For most of his career, Bisping was known as a gatekeeper. A tough man to beat, sure, but he went without any top victories for many years. Thankfully, gradual improvement over the years — perhaps aided by the timely arrival of USADA testing — allowed Bisping to finally put this title run together at the end of his career.

A little luck didn’t hurt either.


Bisping really stands out as one of the first to rely on such a high-volume of strikes. He breaks down his foe with constant work, forcing them to spend energy just trying to keep up with him. Before long, that’s impossible, and Bisping is able to make up for any technical or athletic disadvantages with pure numbers. On the whole, Bisping relies on his boxing more than anything else. He's a fairly long and tall Middleweight who makes good use of that range, peppering his opponents from the outside and keeping them on the end of his punches. A large part of this is because of his footwork, as Bisping does a nice job staying light on his feet and preventing his foe from closing the distance into the clinch easily.

Bisping relies heavily on his straight punches. He does a nice job snapping his opponent's head back with the jab (GIF), and Bisping will follow up with a solid cross as well. This is really the core of Bisping's game -- he generally finds good success on the feet when sticking to simple combinations of long punches (GIF). Simple though they may be, Bisping's feints and activity make these combinations effective.

Bisping simply never stops poking at his opponent with these strikes.

If all of that seems pretty simple, it's because Bisping's boxing game isn't really that complicated. Bisping is just remarkably consistent about maintaining his movements, feints and form.

Composure was precisely what allowed Bisping to out-strike Anderson Silva for a vast majority of the fight. Silva tried to draw Bisping in and make him sloppy, but Bisping stayed disciplined and kept himself safe from most of the Brazilian's counter strikes.

As Silva failed to land, he became the one getting a bit wild, and that's when Bisping did his best work. Early in the fight, Bisping managed to rock and drop Silva by avoiding his counter punches and catching him off-guard (GIF).

In his last two bouts, much has been made about the power of Bisping’s left hook. Nowadays, Bisping does a far better job of turning his hips into the left hook, allowing him to land with far more force. The left hook is known as the king of counter punches for a reason, and Bisping stays ready to throw the strike thanks to his focus on remaining in good position.

Together, those traits allow him to find opportunities (GIF).

Beyond his boxing, it's worth mentioning that his overall kicking ability has improved greatly over the years. He now mixes chopping low kicks and quick head kicks into his game and movement rather efficiently, which is a nice wrinkle to his game. That was quite noticeable opposite Dan Henderson in the rematch also, as Bisping repeatedly used left kicks to occupy Henderson’s right hand and slow him down.

If Henderson was blocking left kicks with his right hand, he couldn’t very well punch Bisping’s face with it at the same time.

Against a pair of counter punching Southpaw kickers in Silva and Rockhold, Bisping did a very nice job of disrupting their rhythm by attacking the lead leg. Often, his low kicks came in the form of quick round kicks, solely designed to unbalance his opponent’s stance. However, Bisping also attacked with push kicks to the lead leg, which makes throwing anything with power difficult.

By stymieing his opponent’s offense for a moment, Bisping lands an small strike with no consequence. If his opponent tries to force a counter or sloppily attacks from out-of-position in response, Bisping is in better position to land strikes.

Bisping is very much a fighter who gets better as the fight drags on. Because of his pace and excellent conditioning, Bisping is able to maintain his output and continue to establish his rhythm even deep into a fight. Meanwhile, his opponent -- even if he doesn't completely gas -- will usually start to slow down, which allows Bisping to land harder shots and become more effective.

As Bisping begins to land more, he builds upon his combinations. Rather than merely peck his opponent from the outside, Bisping will start to commit more of his weight to punches and dig to the body. By increasing his output even more, Bisping grows his advantage as his opponent is forced to do even more work (GIF).

Furthermore, Bisping will even close the distance a bit and work in the clinch. That's an area where he's rather effective with harder punches and knees, further taxing his opponent's conditioning as well.

Defensively, Bisping has always been a hittable fighter. He has a habit of standing a bit too tall and attempting to back straight out of exchanges, which has left him open to wide counter punches.

Prior to the Dan Henderson rematch, I was warming up a bit to the idea that Bisping really was a top-tier Middleweight. After all, wins over Anderson Silva and Luke Rockhold are nothing to scoff at regardless of the circumstances. And while Bisping certainly did improve upon the result of the first match, he also showed some huge vulnerabilities and defensive lapses that imply that his resurgence and high-level performances won’t be long-lasting.

In that bout, Bisping fought essentially a one-punch fighter without takedowns. Henderson is crafty, but pretty much every piece of effective offense came from his overhand right. Bisping knew this going in, as did every fan who has watched “Hendo” fight in recent years. Despite having all this foresight and a full training camp that could be dedicated fully to avoiding that punch, Bisping’s ended the bout looking even worse than the picture below, scraping by with a close decision win.

MMA: UFC 204-Bisping vs Henderson Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports


Bisping's wrestling grew from a weakness to a strength across his career. He's still not a very active offensive wrestler, but he's managed to shift the momentum of a few fights by scoring some key takedowns and landing shots from top position.

When Bisping does look for the takedown, it's usually for a standard double-leg against the cage (GIF). Bisping does a nice job of disguising the shot by scoring with a lot of dirty boxing in the clinch before level changing, which helps him get deep on his opponent's hips.

If he manages to lock his hands, the takedown comes easily.

Bisping is a very difficult man to takedown thanks in large part to his movement-heavy striking style. Bisping is constantly circling around -- often while he punches -- which makes lining up a double leg rather difficult. Since he prefers volume striking to stepping into power punches, it's not easy to catch him off-balance from punching either. Finally, Bisping's habit of striking at the end of his own range is also very helpful.

To counter his opponent's shot, Bisping has a strong sprawl and whizzer. If his opponent does manage to close the distance into the clinch or against the cage, Bisping is still a difficult man to control. Notably, he did a very nice job reversing the clinch opposite Chael Sonnen and forcing him back into the cage.

For a long time, Bisping was the absolute best at working back to his feet after being taken down. His loss to Tim Kennedy — still the only man to truly control Bisping on the mat — may have caused him to lose that crown, but he remains a special fighter in that area. It’s a longtime strength for Bisping, one worthy of this week’s technique analysis.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Bisping is not much of an offensive jiu-jitsu player, but he's nonetheless proven his grappling ability. When on the mat, he does a decent job working to advance position, though it's usually with the goal of landing ground strikes rather than attempting submissions. Defensively, Bisping is a very solid grappler. He's only ever been submitted once in his long career, and that was directly after absorbing a nasty head kick from Rockhold. A more fair example of his defensive grappling came against Kennedy, as Bisping repeatedly recovered from bad positions to get back to his guard and avoided the grappler's submission attempts.


In three fights, Bisping changed his legacy from long-time company man and game scrapper to a champion with a pair of wins over all-time greats and a first-round knockout win over a man who appeared to be the next dominant champion. Georges St. Pierre may be moving up a weight class and coming off a layoff, but a win over him still means something. It completes an incredible resume for Bisping, and at the end of the day, most will ignore the circumstances of those victories and only see the final scorecards.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur champion who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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