Michael Bisping got his first successful title defense done in front of his hometown crowd, against his old nemesis Dan Henderson, just as he always wanted. But the fight itself was probably far from what Bisping had visualized. True, Henderson hasn't been a truly upper echelon fighter for years now, having just one trick to fall back on in the form of his tremendous right hand, but that one trick sent the champion to the mat twice and came dangerously close to ruining The Bisping Show in the first round.
There is not an awful lot to tell you about how Henderson set Bisping up because he didn't, he simply waited with his finger on the trigger. Henderson's right hand was the sole problem to be solved and it was Bisping's job to defuse it, but any time he made a mistake or got too confident the 46-year-old MMA legend would punish him with a booming right across the head. The blueprint for besting Henderson wasn't much different from the one Bisping had used to beat Anderson Silva—both men wanted to time Bisping coming in, so he had to show dozens of feints to throw off their timing.
When fighting a counter fighter it is always important to show feints because they either leave the other guy swinging at air—exhausting if you throw as hard as a Dan Henderson or Mark Hunt—or have him holding back a bit and waiting longer before he throws his counters. Suddenly he's working on reacting in a much smaller window, trying to ascertain whether a strike is a feint or legitimate and giving himself less and less time to do so as he holds off on counters.
The problems came when Bisping was convinced Henderson was going into a shell, and either stood in front of him too long or made a legitimate step in two obvious. There were also a few occasions where Bisping feinted, Henderson flinched but kept his right hand coiled, and then Henderson was able to throw a legitimate punch as Bisping moved in to capitalize on the feint.
Unfortunately a puncher's chance is that alone unless said puncher can actually start manufacturing more opportunities to land. Henderson worked himself up to a couple of straight line charges at Bisping per round and rarely found the mark or put together a combination to hide his right. Most of the fight after the two moments of trouble in the early going was Bisping piecing together combinations and Henderson breathing through his mouth. Bisping utilized left high kicks to attempt to punish Henderson's crouching as Vitor Belfort was able to. While he didn't knock Henderson out he did use them nicely to stand the American up, taking him out of the squat over his back foot from which he so often pitches those swings.
A decent scrap, a brave showing from Henderson, and a good show of grit from Bisping in the early going, but still not a fight that really needed to happen. Dan Henderson will be missed in the MMA world, but the body of work he leaves behind is remarkable.
The second old timer of the card, Vitor Belfort, suffered another tough loss at the hands of Gegard Mousasi. Mousasi's stiff jab looked on point, as always. Always a decent finisher, Mousasi still showed the conservatism that is characteristic of his style, allowing Belfort into the second round. A head kick caught Belfort, a flurry on the fence followed, and an effortless guard pass to mounted ground and pound against the disorientated Befort ended the fight.
The story of Belfort's career has always been that he is extremely dangerous in bursts of action early and tends to get disheartened and tire after this. Since the outlawing of testosterone replacement therapy that burst seems to be lasting for shorter and shorter periods, and he really only looked like The Phenom for a brief burst of activity in the opening seconds.
Elsewhere on the card, Iuri Alcantara looked to be on great form as he kickboxed Brad Pickett up on the feet. It wasn't the most perfect technical performance, as he jumped for checks and ran in flailing, but he was never anywhere to be found as Pickett came back.
A slick spinning back elbow caught Pickett leaning and sent him to the mat.
Pickett dug for the underhook to come up on the single but Alcantara stepped over to mount and threatened a mounted triangle before transitioning to an armbar and then back to a triangle for the finish. A beautiful performance from Alcantara but Pickett's seventh loss in eleven UFC showings. A rough position for the British fan favorite.
One pleasant surprise from the card was Stefan Struve. Watching him struggle on the feet in so many fights often makes a viewer forget how slick Struve is on the ground, especially for a giant. It was Struve's guard game which allowed him so much early success in the UFC after all. In this bout he actually looked to have been studying some Semmy Schilt tape, committing to a front snap kick (albeit with his rear leg, as opposed to Schilt's famous lead leg snap kick) and there was a nice knee from the double collar tie in there too. Working well with the overhook along the fence, Struve hit an uchi-mata in the second round but was dragged over the top of Daniel Omielańczuk who looked for deep half guard. Struve cleared Omielańczuk's head and after a brief moment from a front headlock, dropped to his side and locked in a lovely d'arce choke for the finish.
If Struve never masters his reach, he could certainly benefit from pursuing the clinch and takedowns more doggedly in future rather than risking damage on the feet where his defencss can often let him down.
There were a few other great performances of the night. Jimi Manuwa handled Ovince St. Preux masterfully, making full use of St. Preux's gas tank which is famously quick to empty. Ducking into clinches and avoiding the big left kicks early, Manuwa's gameplan completely changed in the second round as he walked St. Preux down and bashed the body. A lovely left hook to the body was followed by an overhand which wobbled St. Preux. A signature Manuwa left hook on the jaw crumpled St. Preux. Elsewhere Leon Edwards looked smooth on the ground against the dangerous boxer, Albert Tumenov. Danny Roberts and Mike Perry also had a thoroughly entertaining scrap, Perry fighting with his head upright and hands low, eating flush left straights from the southpaw Roberts. But Roberts never closed the door on his left hand and often threw himself off balance reaching to hit Perry. Fighters who don't close the door are susceptible to counter punches even if the opponent gets blasted in the face and throws punches back blind. Perry looked sharp and thoughtful, if defensively a little reckless.
A decent event, though probably should have been a Fight Night card rather than a full price pay-per-view, especially with the absolutely chock-a-block UFC 205 looming on the horizon. Hopefully we can at least get back to business as usual in the middleweight division which has too much talent to be holding up the belt.
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