I am British, but I am among the least patriotic people you will ever meet. I don't have a flag of St. George on my car, I think hereditary privilege is the oldest con in the book (which has somehow kept its head down and made it past the age of enlightenment in England), and I watch every event that I can during the Olympics only to see which individuals are the best athletes.
Maybe it's because I grew up as something of a country bumpkin—but the prospect of fanatically supporting someone because they are from vaguely the same area as me has never really interested me that much. To be honest, patriotism often seems to bring out the worst in people in sports. Whether it's the incessant “U.S.A.” chants, the booing of anyone against a British fighter in Britain, or the same but worse whenever the UFC rolls into Brazil.
But I recognize, having been around combat sports for a fair while, that national pride is something which must be exploited to interest a new demographic. Certainly, nobody in the U.S, Brazil or Europe would have given a damn about PRIDE FC if it were only Japanese guys fighting each other—they already have that, it's called Shooto and next to no-one watches it.
Sometime exploiting this patriotism means offering a fighter favourable match ups and keeping them in the public eye—as is undeniably happening with Ireland's Conor McGregor—but arguably most fighters break out when they actually reach the big time and prove themselves.
No matter how many people I talk to in England the line which comes out time and time again is “I got into boxing / MMA around the time x was in his prime, and I've been a fan ever since”.. Most of the people I meet will say Ricky Hatton or Naseem Hamed, or Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, but going back further I will meet elder people who say they got in to boxing around the prime of Henry Cooper.
In terms of mixed martial arts, whether you love him or hate him, Michael Bisping has had that effect and consequently attracted an enormous number of fans to the UFC who might not have followed it otherwise.
You can't have a discussion about Bisping without talking about his record. There are plenty of folks who like to use this to discredit him and, to be fair, they often have a point. Much of Bisping's early career was just padding. An 8-9 Elvis Sinosic, for example, should not be fighting an undefeated fighter on a 12 fight winning streak. It's hard to argue that a guy like Charles McCarthy should have been fighting someone like Bisping either.
Another one which I've seen brought up lately is that every single fighter whom Bisping has beaten is retired or has been absent for some time. That is, to be fair, a rather strange circumstance. But looking at it would imply that Bisping was simply beating up old men on their way out. The truth is that guys like Alan Belcher, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Jason Miller were all healthy and looking to get into the title mix when Bisping beat them.
A few of the guys Bisping has fought have been coming off of long careers, but they were still dangerous fighters; Denis Kang was more than formidable, Jorge Rivera still owned the punch which he always had, and Dan Miller is as hard nosed as they come.
Bisping was protected early on, he was an investment in the U.K market, but now that he's going even with Chael Sonnen, roughing up Alan Belcher, or giving a decent showing (until he got head kicked) against Vitor Belfort, it would be flat out stupid to write him off as just some cash cow with a padded record.
Staples of Bisping's Game
Michael Bisping is an excellent striker by mixed martial arts standards, and he's more than a decent grappler. It is interesting that Bisping is not dissimilar to Nick Diaz in philosophy. He is a volume striker who wears down opponents in looking for a late stoppage. Of course his methodology is different: he kicks a ton, he doesn't get hit as much and is ring craft is generally better.
What I like about Bisping is that he uses that Mendoza-esque arm jab. It's not a powerful stepping jolt, or a strong thrust from the shoulder, but any time there is the slightest break in an opponent's guard, Bisping's lead hand is tapping them in the face, throwing their aim off, and tiring them out. Imagine that you were having an argument with someone and every time you opened your mouth they slapped you across the face. You're not worrying for your life or your health, but it throws you off, it upsets you, and you certainly don't remember the point you were about to make.
And that's Bisping's jab.
What I really enjoyed watching Bisping do against Jason Miller—and that fight was a clinic, it's pretty hard to deny—was allowing his jab to miss over Miller's shoulder as Miller hunched in with an inside slip. Bisping would then cup the back of Miller's shoulder or neck and throw uppercuts or body shots.
Anyone who has wrestled will know how tiring it is having someone pulling on your head for any length of time, and it's even more effective in a striking engagement where it is unexpected. Muhammad Ali won his second bout with Joe Frazier entirely by pulling down on Frazier's head every time Frazier came in close. If you're looking at the floor and stooped over you can't hit hard, and when you pull up against your opponent's weight, he can let go and snap your head around with punches.
It's almost the judo principle: If he comes to you, welcome him. If he leaves, send him on his way.
Ducking in low and tucking his chin? Help him pull it down. Soon he'll be jumping up and letting you have free shots at his chin. Another great one which Bisping used was covering Miller's vision and pushing his head back with the lead hand, to sneak the right hand in behind.
Here is a nice sequence. Miller ducks the slow jab, Bisping assumes the “lace” position with the hand behind the neck, lands an uppercut and a right hook as Miller stands up. Then Bisping pushes Miller's head back and throws a right hand.
I referred to this as Michael Bisping's British dirty boxing once. The idea of national styles is pretty flawed and largely irrelevant in this global age, but historically British fighters have always liked the jab, and to pull the head down when an infighter (usually American) begins to duck the jabs. Lennox Lewis was an absolute master of this, as we mentioned in looking at Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira versus Roy Nelson.
Bisping is extremely good with a grip behind the head, and a good number of his opponents have been hurt or finished with knee strikes and punches while he is using these collar tie grips.
The Lead Shoulder
What continues to plague Bisping's game is his refusal to hide behind his lead shoulder as he jabs. He jabs straight out, then brings it back low, relying on timing to break the opponent's rhythm and hopefully not get hit. You will notice that almost every time Bisping has been hurt, it is a right hand over the top of his jab or as he is retracting it.
For instance, here he is getting dropped as he jabs at Jorge Rivera.
This is made worse by Bisping's contracting “Andre Arlovski syndrome”. By that I mean, when Bisping is flustered and an opponent is charging at him, he will straighten his arms at them, looking to grab a hold or keep them off. But he doesn't raise his shoulders as he does so, so he takes away his offence while offering no defence to the looping punches which are so common in MMA.
Here is Bisping rapidly retreating and jabbing for no reason against Jorge Rivera. There is almost no point in jabbing while retreating so rapidly because all it does is present an opening for the opponent to swing through.
Most notably this happened against Wanderlei Silva.
Bipsing's refusal to get down behind his shoulder and use it as a shield when he jabs is compounded by the fact that he loves the safety lead—that is jabbing while circling into the opponent's right hand. This is a brilliant technique if you can do it right, but if you don't keep your shoulder up, and hide the good stuff below the line of the shoulder, you're just walking into a right hook and asking to be knocked out.
Here Bisping checks Denis Kang's lead hand, jumps around to his left in order to throw the safety lead, but his shoulder is low and he is clocked before he can even begin extending the punch.
Time constraints have made this the briefest of looks at Bisping, in fact it's just the stuff that fell out of my head when I was asked about him, but what I want to make abundantly clear is that Bisping has the tools to be a great.
You don't need to be a complete fighter to give opponents trouble. Being a limited fighter who excels in the right areas can be more than enough to trouble most. Look at Fabio Maldonado's body work, or Paul Daley and Dan Hardy's left hooks. You pick up on the right thing and excel at it and it doesn't matter that you're not an all rounder. A great jab, powerful clinch boxing and a good ground game are more than enough for Bisping to excel and make his way into the top 5.
The adjustments needed for Bisping to excel are slight, but significant enough. The most important thing to understand is that if you like the punching game it is best to build your game around the assumption that you will get hit, not around the assumption that you are too quick.
A fighter should use movement, angles and timing to take away his opponent's chances and make them miss, but the fighter should always do so with the contingency plan. Because you can't get it right all the time, and you don't want that one mistake of the fight to cost you all that wonderful work you were doing up until it.
Or as we say in the U.K—braces and a belt.
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