Stop us if you’ve heard this before: With one more win, Michael “The Count” Bisping can assure himself a middleweight title shot.
For a while, Bisping was the UFC’s Peyton Manning. He was good enough to rack up a bunch of wins during the regular season, but when push came to shove and he had a chance for a championship, Bisping would come up short against fighters like Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold. Much like Manning had Tom Brady as his boogeyman for much of his career, Bisping’s boogeyman seems to be the “elite” in the UFC middleweight division.
Eventually, Manning broke through and won two Super Bowls (though the argument can easily be made that it was the Denver Broncos defense who allowed Manning to get his second championship). Can Bisping do the same and finally shatter the glass ceiling that has seemingly been directly over his head his entire career? If he does, it won’t come easy. This time, Bisping is facing the former middleweight champion and the former pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, Anderson Silva.
Silva returned from the broken leg he suffered in his rematch against former middleweight champion Chris Weidman and looked like his old self last year against the always-tough Nick Diaz. However, there may have been a reason why Silva looked like he hadn’t lost a step: He failed multiple drug tests following his victory against Diaz.
Silva later blamed the failures on taking penis enhancement pills a colleague gave to him that allegedly came from Thailand. I mean, as far as excuses go, that is a doozy. No one seemed to believe him, though, and Silva was suspended for nearly a year. Like any good villain, Bisping has seized on this piece of information to mock Silva endlessly leading up to this fight, in classic Bisping fashion.
Will “The Spider” make “The Count” eat his words and re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in the UFC middleweight division? Can Bisping finally lay a legitimate claim to a title shot? This and other topics will be discussed by Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Zach Aittama in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping are headlining a UFC Fight Pass card. Is this a sign of how far these two fighters have declined, or is this a legitimate effort by the UFC to draw more fans to the company’s digital platform?
Aittama: UFC Fight Pass has made many positive changes since the digital network was announced at the end of 2013. The first event to air on the digital streaming service was UFC Fight Night 34: Saffiedine vs. Lim, which aired live in the early morning of Jan. 4, 2014. The event, headlined by a match-up of welterweight contenders Tarec Saffiedine and Hyun Gyu Lim, was a success in terms of the fights and the stream quality. The service continued to provide live events from all over the world, offering fans a seven-day free trial to hop onboard the platform that offered full fight libraries, live events and original content.
The greatest addition to the service, however, has been the hiring of UFC Senior Vice President and General Manager of UFC Fight Pass Eric Winter. Winter has already made major changes to the service by adding fight libraries from GLORY kickboxing to Pancrase and signing a plethora of regional MMA promotions from around the world to stream live on the service. Winter has added another key element in attempting to add new subscribers to the service, bringing in star fighters to headline shows and featuring two well-known fighters as the “featured prelim” from pay-per-view, Fox and Fox Sports 1 shows. For example, a lightweight clash between top-10 fighter Dustin Poirier and Irish prospect Joe Duffy at UFC 195 was recently placed in the featured prelim spot on UFC Fight Pass.
The women’s strawweight title fight between Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Jessica Penne last year in Berlin was the first time Fight Pass featured a championship fight. The event was actually scheduled originally to feature a match-up of top-five light heavyweights Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira, before Gustafsson was injured and pulled from the fight. The last-second title fight did not disappoint the fans, bringing hope that UFC Fight Pass could actually start to build some steam.
Bisping has twice been featured in the main event of UFC Fight Pass events. He knocked out Cung Le at UFC Fight Night 48 and fell short against Luke Rockhold at UFC Fight Night 55. Bisping has been involved in fights against the top of the division for a very long time. He won the third season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2006, making for his entry into the UFC as an undefeated prospect. Yes, Bisping has been near the top for almost 10 years, but Silva spent much of that time as the top fighter in his division.
Silva entered the UFC shortly after Bisping. He thrashed Chris Leben in under a minute, much to the surprise of the casual viewers. The win put Silva opposite UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin in the Brazilian’s second fight in the promotion. Silva dominated Franklin, finishing him in under a round with a series of brutalizing knees to the head and body. Silva won the title and never looked back, going unbeaten over the next six years, until he faced Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in 2013. Weidman put an end to an era with one beautifully timed left hook.
Silva has yet to recapture the aura that put him in the “greatest of all time” discussion, losing to Weidman again and spending much of the past two years on the sidelines due to injuries and his performance-enhancing drug test failures. Silva last fought against the aforementioned Nick Diaz in a collected and somewhat timid affair. Silva had his hand raised after the 25-minute fight, but the post-fight aftermath once again left much to be desired from the former champion.
This fight might indeed be both a bit of a decline and UFC Fight Pass stepping up its promotional muscle, but I tend to believe this match-up was designed to get new eyeballs on the company’s subscriber-based streaming service.
Huntemann: The UFC definitely wants to push the Fight Pass product, and it is finally putting together fight cards that will draw fans to the network. Up until now, the biggest names on a Fight Pass card were what? Mark Hunt? Stipe Miocic? The aforementioned Jędrzejczyk? All fine fighters in their own right, sure, but Silva is still among the all-time greats and Bisping is one of the sport’s best personalities.
The UFC is reading the tea leaves and seeing that streaming is the way to go. The company reportedly enjoyed healthy revenues from its pay-per-views in 2015, but streaming will be even more profitable, since the UFC wouldn’t have to work with cable companies and the like to put on pay-per-views. The UFC probably also noticed the success the WWE is having with its own nline streaming service and wants to do something similar.
This card serves as a great litmus test for Fight Pass. Whether Silva or Bisping win — I’m going with Silva, for the record — if the UFC sees a ton of views/ratings/however you measure how many people watched a fight card online, the organization will definitely put more big-name fighters on future Fight Pass cards. Jon Jones? Ronda Rousey? Conor McGregor? Those are all definite possibilities to appear on a Fight Pass card near you in the future, if all goes well with UFC Fight Night 84.
Gegard Mousasi and Thales Leites take the co-headlining spot. Is this bout more relevant than the main event when it comes to the UFC middleweight title picture?
Huntemann: I don’t think so. Mousasi and Leites are below Silva and Bisping in the UFC’s official middleweight rankings. While you can take those rankings with a Morton’s container worth of salt, Silva and Bisping are closer to a title shot at the moment than Mousasi or Leites.
Mousasi is still trying to shake off his shocking loss to Uriah Hall last year, although he did win three of four prior to that against guys like Dan Henderson and Mark Muñoz. Leites is actually coming off a close, split-decision loss to Bisping — a fight I scored for Leites, for the record. Before that, Leites won an impressive eight fights in a row, including five consecutive bouts since his return to the UFC.
OK, so I may have to change my tune a bit, at least when it comes to Leites. If he finishes Mousasi in impressive fashion (say, similar to the way Hall did) and the main event fails to deliver, Leites could end up leapfrogging the winner of Silva/Bisping in the rankings and take up a better position for a possible title shot. Leites will do it, too, at least from the vantage point of winning the fight.
Leites and Mousasi are crisp, dangerous strikers, but Leites seems to be a brand new fighter since returning to the UFC in 2013, whereas Mousasi just doesn’t seem to be able to capitalize on his equally impressive potential. A late finish by Leites is what we’ll see out of this fight.
Aittama: My colleague’s takeaway from the Hall loss was that it was devastating for Mousasi, but I believe the fight showcased exactly what Mousasi is good at. He took control of the fight early in round one and didn’t give Hall an inch to work in the first frame. A perfectly timed spinning back kick to the face ended Mousasi’s control in the second, but there were positives to be taken from the loss. Mousasi’s only other setbacks since joining the UFC were a decision loss to Lyoto Machida and a submission loss at the hands of one of the best grappler’s in the sport, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Mousasi put together impressive performances in dominating the aforementioned Muñoz and Henderson, and the Dutch-Iranian fighter has been a proven veteran for just about 10 years.
Leites made the best of his second opportunity to fight with the UFC, putting together his impressive five-fight winning streak inside of the Octagon with victories over Tim Boetsch and Francis Carmont, among others. Leites arguably won his last bout with Bisping at UFC Fight Night 72. The re-born Brazilian middleweight has steadily improved his striking offense since training with Brazil’s top fight camp, Nova União. Leites is a competent grappler with a great submission arsenal.
The style match-up lends me to believe this fight has potential snoozer written all over it, but it could become the opposite, getting dirty and grimy after the first few exchanges. Mousasi won’t need to worry about the unorthodox kicking attacks of Leites, opening up more of Mousasi’s offense, including takedown attempts. Leites will do his best to begin another long winning streak, but Mousasi beats him on the path of redemption and gets back in the win column.
Does the loser of the fight between Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping officially join the illustrious community known as Gatekeepersville? It might seem blasphemous to ever consider Silva a gatekeeper, but even though he won his last fight against Nick Diaz, he was thoroughly outclassed by Chris Weidman and his failed drug tests continue to cloud his legacy a bit. If Bisping loses, he also might lose his last shot at fighting for a title. Do both (or either) fighter still have something to offer? Or might this be the loser’s swan song?
Aittama: It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Bisping loses and gets a title shot down the line. He has notoriously beaten the fighters he was supposed to beat, but has fallen short against the elite fighters in the middleweight division time and time again. Bisping’s fight this weekend with Silva will be his 25th inside the Octagon. That’s nearly five hours of fighting inside of the UFC cage, good for second among all active fighters. Despite such a storied history in the promotion, both in the good and the bad, Bisping will probably never see a UFC title fight without defeating Silva on Saturday night.
I could be wrong in my assumption that selling a Bisping vs. Rockhold rematch might not go over well with the fans, given how dominant the performance was for Rockhold. However, I’ll hold firm on my opinion unless Bisping is able to put together another career-defining winning streak like he did in 2010-11. With the middleweight division at quite possibly its deepest since the introduction of the weight category into the promotion in 2001, it will take some major wins and stellar performances for Bisping to jump over top contenders Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Yoel Romero, Vitor Belfort and Tim Kennedy in the rankings.
Now, all of this is a moot point if Bisping upsets the former middleweight king. The Brit holds the record for most significant strikes landed among active UFC fighters, an astounding 1,285 strikes landed in 24 fights. Bisping is a high-volume striker with a varied attack and good overall striking defense. He has been hit in the past, but he often avoids the counter strike and gets his wins on the inside. This could be a valuable trait — Chris Weidman was able to bully Silva in the clinch in their second fight — or it could be the beginning of the end of the fight against such a skilled offensive clinch fighter.
Silva looked a bit tentative in his bout with Diaz, but Silva grew more comfortable inside the cage as the fight went on. He started to throw more kicks, slide in and out of range and work on his counter striking again. Silva getting into a rhythm will be key to how he looks early against Bisping. The Englishman would be better served to get the fight started quickly, but the danger of the counter strike is always present with “The Spider.”
If Bisping were to break the former champion and have his hand raised in victory, it would certainly put him in a position to fight in a title eliminator. But with so many high-level fighters already jockeying for title shots, the path to the title might be down a longer road for Bisping.
Meanwhile, a loss for Silva would be absolutely devastating. He would be stuck behind many of the division’s top contenders and would most certainly have to defeat one or two of those fighters to earn another shot at his former title, a challenging task at the age of 40.
The most likely scenario, however, is that Silva channels his younger self and once again delivers an impressive performance in front of the London fans. Silva slips Bisping’s strikes, slams knees and kicks into the body and lands the fight-ending counter shot to put his name back in the title talks.
Huntemann: Take a look at Bisping’s record. He should probably be a gatekeeper already. I’ve really warmed up to the guy after not caring for him initially, but facts are facts. He can beat the Dennis Kangs, Jason “Mayhem” Millers and Jorge Riveras of the world with relative ease. But when he’s matched up with top-10 fighters, he almost always comes up short.
Bisping will come up short again when he faces Silva. Lost in the circus that was Silva’s post-fight drug tests following his victory over Diaz was the fact that he looked like his old self. He danced around. He ducked Diaz’s punches. He thoroughly outclassed Diaz. Silva displayed all the athleticism and skill that had many people considering him the greatest of all time before his losses to Weidman.
If Silva wins, he’ll make another run at the middleweight belt and a possible match-up against Luke Rockhold, assuming Rockhold wins his rematch against Weidman. If Silva loses? He won’t join Gatekeepersville quite yet. But Silva won’t need to worry about that. Bisping will not back down against Silva, but talent almost always wins out.
One of England’s top prospects, Tom Breese, returns to the Octagon to defend his undefeated record against the streaking Keita “K-Taro” Nakamura. Nakamura shocked many when he locked in a submission to win his first fight since returning to the UFC in his second stint. Can Nakamura continue his recent success, or will Breese finish yet another opponent on his way up the welterweight rankings?
Huntemann: Fun fact: Out of all nine of Breese’s victories, exactly zero came via decision, and his last two came via TKO after the previous seven were all by submission. So, needless to say, the dude is a finisher.
Breese’s last victory came over the legendary Cathal Pendred, who was among the first call out CM Punk (please note the sarcasm here). Nakamura has only had one decision victory himself since 2012, so you should probably expect this one to end early. However, Breese’s finishes seem to be of the more brutal variety (back-to-back first-round finishes, to be exact).
I like Breese to go for the trifecta here. Nakamura looked good in his last UFC fight, but Breese appears to be the fighter on the rise.
Aittama: K-Taro has returned to the UFC for his second stint with much more experience than when he made his debut in 2006 as a 22-year-old. Nakamura went winless in his first stint with the promotion, losing close fights to Brock Larson, Drew Fickett and Robert Emerson. The case could be made that Nakamura defeated Emerson, but the Japanese lightweight was instead cut by the promotion. Nakamura briefly retired at the age of 24, but he quickly returned to Japan to rebuild his record, this time as a welterweight. Nakamura won 14 of his next 17 fights, finishing 10 opponents and winning titles in Deep and the now defunct Sengoku Raiden Championships.
Breese fought his way through BAMMA’s talent-filled welterweight division after he made his professional debut just over five years ago. He stopped Luiz Dutra with strikes in the first frame of his UFC debut in May 2015. Breese returned at UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin to stop the aforementioned Pendred with strikes during the first round of his most recent fight.
Nakamura is bringing a winning streak of his own into the contest, a streak he moved to five wins when he rallied to defeat Jingliang Li in the third round at UFC Fight Night 75. Both fighters have well-rounded skill sets and a combined finishing ratio of 77.5 percent. This is not only an interesting match-up, but a potential springboard into the deep line of fighters waiting to contend for Robbie Lawler’s championship belt.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Aittama: While the card is littered with compelling match-ups with prospects and veterans, the best and maybe most overlooked fight on this card pairs Brad “One Punch” Pickett with heavy-handed puncher Francisco Rivera.
Pickett is returning to London after a devastating knockout loss at the hands, or I mean, by the destructive flying knee of the bantamweight ball of violence, Thomas Almeida. The loss was indeed brutal and absolutely everything you want in a pay-per-view opener. Pickett was giving the young prospect trouble, even dropping him in the first round before finally meeting his end in the next round. Pickett has been on the opposite side of the decision column in his past few fights, but there is always one thing you can count on from Pickett: he’s going to fight until the bitter end, despite slowing down after more than 11 years of ghting professionally.
Pickett will welcome “Cisco” to Pickett’s home country of England. Rivera has come up short in three of his last four bouts, losing his last fight in a short, but sweet brawl with rising bantamweight John Lineker. Rivera was arguably on his way to defeating Urijah Faber before an eye poke led to a submission loss. Sandwiched between the losses, Rivera picked up a devastating knockout win over crafty veteran Alex Caceres at UFC Fight Night 68.
If there is one thing we can count on this fight to deliver to the fans, it’s excitement. Strap in and sit back, this is going to be a very fun fight.
Huntemann: I agree with the Z-Man. Pickett and Rivera is one to watch.
Before he fell victim to the epidemic of eye pokes that is plaguing MMA, Rivera was giving Faber all he could handle and was probably on his way to an upset. Pickett is just a tough bastard, period, and fans should look forward to these guys dropping bomb after bomb on each other and never giving an inch.
The winner of this fight should show that he is not someone to be forgotten in the bantamweight division.
Pair this card with…
Huntemann: Your tablet. This card, by virtue of its main event and the fact it’s on UFC Fight Pass, is the true litmus test for the UFC to see if streaming is the way of the future. More and more people are jumping on the streaming bandwagon, and while the UFC boasted a healthy revenue from its pay-per-views in 2015, the company undoubtedly wants to continue promoting the Fight Pass service and make it more of an emphasis. So if you watch this card on your tablet, and many, many other fans do also, other big names in the UFC like Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor will be featured on future Fight Pass cards.
Aittama: Your friends. That’s right, spread the word: Anderson Silva is fighting. One of the sport’s mainstream stars is returning to your friendly neighborhood streaming service, but most casual fans will miss this bout if for no other reason than because they can’t watch it at the bar or order it on pay-per-view. Bisping’s trash talk leading into the fight might seem like a selling point, but the true attraction on this card is the man opposite of the Brit in the main event. Gather a few of your friends and show off exactly what the UFC wants its streaming service to be: a draw to even the casual sports fans.
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 4 p.m. ET)
MW: Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping
MW: Gegard Mousasi vs. Thales Leites
WW: Tom Breese vs. Keita Nakamura
FlyW: Brad Pickett vs. Francisco Rivera
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 12:45 p.m. ET)
FW: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Mike Wilkinson
BW: Davey Grant vs. Marlon Vera
MW: Scott Askham vs. Chris Dempsey
FW: Arnold Allen vs. Yaotzin Meza
MW: Brad Scott vs. Krzysztof Jotko
LW: Rustam Khabilov vs. Norman Parke
HW: Daniel Omielańczuk vs. Jarjis Danho
LW: Teemu Packalén vs. Thibault Gouti
LW: Martin Svensson vs. David Teymur
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