A most formidable obstacle stands between Michael Bisping and his achieving a career-long dream.
Bisping will replace the injured Chris Weidman on short notice and challenge reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Luke Rockhold for promotional gold at 185 pounds in the UFC 199 main event on Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California. In the co-headliner, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz defends his title against longtime archrival Urijah Faber.
The rest of the five-fight main draw features a balance of up-and-coming contenders and past-their-prime veterans, from Max Holloway to Dan Henderson.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 199 “Rockhold vs. Bisping 2” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Middleweight ChampionshipLuke Rockhold (15-2) vs. Michael Bisping (28-7)
THE MATCHUP: With Weidman on the shelf, Bisping steps in on short notice, finally seizing the title shot for which he has yearned since his UFC debut 10 long years ago. Rockhold has already beaten Bisping once, so “The Count” will need to be in top form to make any headway against a confident and physically imposing champion.
Rockhold does not look like the typical American Kickboxing Academy fighter, but his game makes perfect sense given his training environment. Where training partners Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez are both relatively short, Rockhold is a towering 6-foot-3. Where they are aggressive, low-line wrestlers, Rockhold is a counter wrestler with a potent submission game designed to punish the takedowns of overzealous opponents. Where they press forward, Rockhold likes to kick at long range and move backward, wrapping counter punches around his opponents’ heads.
Bisping did not perform poorly against that style when he and Rockhold first met in 2014. He has been playing the same out-fighting game for the entirety of his career, and he has slowly but surely fine-tuned it over time. Now 37 years old, Bisping is a little slower than he used to be and his legendary gas tank a little leakier, but time and experience have granted him better defense, better distance management and a wider variety of strikes. On the heels of a controversial but well-deserved decision over Anderson Silva, Bisping will be more confident than ever going into the Octagon at UFC 199.
The grappling aspect is a little more one-sided. Bisping is a solid defensive wrestler, largely because he does such a good job of staying out of wrestling range, but Rockhold’s size advantage is overwhelming. He is two inches taller -- supposedly -- and will likely be at least 10 pounds heavier come fight night. Bisping’s best chance will be to play the first few rounds extremely safe and wait for Rockhold to tire. The champion is not known for poor stamina, but there are few fighters who can keep up with Bisping over five rounds, even as he enters middle age.
THE ODDS: Rockhold (-900), Bisping (+545)
THE PICK: From a technical standpoint, Bisping absolutely possesses the kind of game to trouble Rockhold. He is a more fully developed striker, a deft takedown defender and about as gritty as they come. Physically, however, “The Count” just cannot compete. He is less durable, less powerful, slower, weaker and significantly smaller than Rockhold; and because these disadvantages will give the champion an easier time of taking the fight to the ground, Bisping will have no choice but to confront Rockhold’s one clear technical advantage: his grappling. Bisping is coming off the biggest win of his career and that should do wonders for his confidence, but confidence alone will not be enough. Rockhold by second-round TKO is the pick.
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