Luke Rockhold (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 199 Preview and Predictions

So close, yet so far away.

There’s no better phrase to describe the career path of Michael Bisping, even right up to the present day. The British fighter won the light heavyweight tournament in season three of The Ultimate Fighter and seemed to be a rising 205er right up until he was edged via a split decision by Rashad Evans. Bisping moved to middleweight, where he won his first three fights before getting knocked off course — and knocked the eff out — by Dan Henderson. A 5-1 run followed and Bisping again seemed to be a rising contender. Chael Sonnen put a temporary end to that discussion. Bisping continued to bounce back with wins, only to suffer losses to Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold.

It seemed like the Brit could not catch a break. Then came another winning streak. Three more fights, topped by a victory over former champion and an all-time great in his prime, Anderson Silva. Bisping appeared to be on the verge again, but Chris Weidman blocked his path to a title shot. But Weidman suffered an injury and the path was cleared. Finally, Bisping gets his chance to fight for a UFC title belt.


So close, yet so far away. It still rings true. Bisping’s opponent is the middleweight kingpin, the aforementioned Rockhold. The Strikeforce veteran met Bisping inside the Octagon in late 2014 and locked in a guillotine choke in the second round to finish the veteran fighter. It was part of a march to the top that subsequently took Rockhold through Lyoto Machida and then the aforementioned Weidman, from whom Rockhold claimed the crown. Can Bisping overcome a man who already defeated him once, or is the Brit simple filling the void as a placeholder for Rockhold to demolish while waiting for Weidman to get healthy or another, more formidable challenger to step up?

The battle between Rockhold and Bisping headlines UFC 199, a pay-per-view showcase that also features another veteran seeking his first piece of UFC gold. That veteran is Urijah Faber, who collides with bantamweight titleholder Dominick Cruz in the evening’s co-headliner. Cruz, an injury-prone fighter who is among the very best when healthy, is back on top of the division, but Faber does hold a win over the champ. Can Faber defeat Cruz again, more than nine years — and one loss to Cruz — later?

These two title fights top a solid night of fights that begins at 6:15 p.m. ET with four fights on UFC Fight Pass. The remainder of the preliminary card will air live on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET. Then it’s off to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the five-fight main card. Combat Press writers John Franklin and Bryan Henderson preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Michael Bisping has been near the top of the middleweight division for a long time, but he has never quite been able to get over the hump and capture a title shot. Now, he has his shot, thanks to a Chris Weidman injury. Will Bisping be able to capitalize on his opportunity and take home UFC gold?

Franklin: Bisping is in all likelihood a UFC Hall of Famer. His time on The Ultimate Fighter, his record at middleweight and his victory over Anderson Silva — these things all but guarantee that he’ll make it into the UFC’s Hall. The fact that he is one of the best European fighters of all time helps as well. In Bisping’s career, he has fought and lost to a lot of fighters who, as it turns out, were maybe not what you would call “clean” fighters. Chael Sonnen, the aforementioned Silva, Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort — all of whom have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs — got victories over the Brit when it seemed as if Bisping was just about to turn the corner. This stuck with Bisping and he seemed destined to be the greatest fighter to never fight for the title.

Then a few things fell his way and now he has a rematch with champion Luke Rockhold. Here’s the problem: he was outclassed and finished in the first fight, and not a whole lot has changed since then. In fact, Rockhold seems to be in full bloom, in his full prime and is starting to put distance between himself and the rest of the division.

So, Bisping has no chance, right? Well…

Let me start by saying #spoileralert, I think Rockhold is gonna win. However, the path for Bisping is in the early rounds. Rockhold is a little bit of a front-runner and (surprise!) he’s someone who is very dependent on his confidence to propel him. So Bisping has to “win” a lot in the early rounds. He has to win the exchanges and start to put some doubt in Rockhold’s mind as to the path of this fight versus the last one. That’s actually the good news about Bisping getting finished early in the first fight. As the fight goes deep into the second and into the third, Rockhold will think something is different. He’ll wonder why he can’t finish Bisping like he did before. That’s the hope for Bisping — just win a bunch of battles and the war will be his.

Henderson: The Brit might not be everyone’s favorite fighter, and his personality can be off-putting to some fans. However, you have to admit that it’s good to see him finally get his chance at the gold.

Whether he’ll capitalize on that chance is a different matter. This is Bisping we’re talking about, after all, and if there’s one thing the Brit has made a habit of doing, it’s losing the fights he most needs to win. Can we really see his rematch with Rockhold going any other way?

Rockhold has only lost twice. The first defeat came via strikes very early in his career. The second loss came to the aforementioned Belfort, a devastating striker, whether “clean” or not. Bisping isn’t a power puncher. He’s not likely to knock out Rockhold. And Rockhold has a clear edge on the mat. Bisping needs to methodically grind away at Rockhold and, as my colleague suggests, take him into deep waters.

Rockhold isn’t going to let Bisping turn this into a points-oriented fight, and he’s going to be out to show the world that he needs even less time to end the Brit’s night in a rematch. We’re probably looking at another submission finish, and this one might even come in the first frame after Rockhold staggers Bisping with strikes.

Urijah Faber does hold a win over UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, but that victory came years ago in a WEC title defense for Faber. Faber lost their rematch for Cruz’s UFC belt and has fallen short in several other attempts to capture a UFC championship. Does Cruz have any weaknesses that Faber can expose? Can Faber ever repeat the first-round submission finish he scored over Cruz in 2007?

Henderson: Cruz was a very different fighter in 2007. So was Faber. The former was a prospect with nine fights under his belt, none of which took place in a major organization, and whose most significant opponent to that point was a sub-.500 Shad Smith. The latter, meanwhile, was already a 17-1 fighter with a WEC title win and successful defense to his credit. The former was an unproven fighter on the rise. The latter, a champion entering his prime.

Now, the former is in his prime — well, when he’s actually healthy, anyhow — and the latter is a 37-year-old star who can put up a solid fight but can’t quite beat the very best. That’s sort of the theme at the top of this bill. First, Faber gets another impossible shot at the bantamweight title and then Bisping gets his impossible shot at middleweight gold.

Obviously, I’m not too keen on Faber’s chances. Yes, he won that first fight, but then he met Cruz when Cruz was in his prime and he lost that fight. The fight went the distance, and it’s not difficult to envision this trilogy fight doing the same. However, Cruz, when healthy, is the smart pick. His footwork is excellent, and he should be able to avoid going to the mat with Faber unless Cruz himself wants the fight to go there.

The only weakness Cruz ever showed, outside of his history of injuries, came in his first meeting with Faber. That hole doesn’t exist anymore. He’s a complete fighter who just needs to stay healthy in order to build upon his legacy. Cruz should use his excellent striking technique to edge Faber in each round to take the verdict and retain his crown.

Franklin: The thing I find the most intriguing about the Cruz-Faber beef is that when they are talking trash to each other, they are both kind of right. The things Faber says are true — he has fought higher quality opponents and does have a win over Cruz. The things Cruz says are true — that loss to Faber was a long time ago and Faber did not reach championship level in Cruz’s absence. The subtext has been and will always be that each has what the other wants. Cruz believes himself to be superior on all fronts and seems to envy Faber’s fame and money. Faber knows that his legacy is incomplete without a victory over Cruz and a UFC title belt.

The bigger concern for Faber may be the fact that Cruz may be right that the “California Kid” is limited to an overhand right and a guillotine at this point. Also, Faber’s more recent opponents haven’t been stellar. Frankie Edgar aside, the way to get ready to fight Cruz is not by fighting Alex Caceres, Francisco Rivera and Frankie Saenz. With all due respect to those fighters, these were paycheck fights. I only say that because you could make an argument Faber could have won those fights with a dusted off, 2009 Faber game plan. That same game plan will not beat Cruz.

Cruz presents a lot of problems for Faber. His movement and wrestling takes the things that Faber does well out of the equation. But where it gets interesting is that Cruz is so adept at being elusive that we don’t know how he would react when he gets caught, like with big power. Faber has more power, for sure. But if he can’t get to Cruz, then it doesn’t matter. Faber still seems content to sit down and throw overhands and hooks as opposed to finding power on the move by planting and throwing crosses. Heavyweight champion of the world Stipe Miocic has shown the MMA world that you can find power on the move, and Faber would be wise to take a page from that book. I don’t see it happening, but if he finds the path and so does Bisping, those two would hold belts. Who would be able to say they saw that coming eight months ago?

Jessica Penne is making her long-awaited return after losing to Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Is this fight against Jessica Andrade a step down for Penne, a former title contender, that will ease her back into fighting? Or does Andrade pose a big threat in her new weight class?

Franklin: There was a time after Andrade beat Raquel Pennington that there was a collective belief that we maybe had something in the Brazilian. Next, she beat Larissa Pacheco to move to 11-3. The future seemed bright. However, in her last four, Andrade is 2-2. Her wins are a decision and a choke submission, and her losses both came when she was choked out. Those losses came to fighters who are a tier above her and probably, at least in Pennington’s case, near Penne. This could mean that we have found Andrade’s level, or this could mean that the Brazilian’s jiu-jitsu isn’t where she thinks it is.

Now, on to Penne. This girl means business. When she gets there, her wins are largely finishes and her losses are largely decisions. Well, in fairness, they are split, but she has only been finished by two people, the aforementioned Jędrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson, probably two of the female fighters on the short list for best in the world.

However, all this goes out the window, because styles truly make fights and, unfortunately for Andrade, Penne holds the stylistic advantage here as well. The longer fighter, Penne can work behind her jab and wait for the openings Andrade will undoubtedly provide. Don’t expect a cakewalk for Penne, but Andrade doesn’t have what she needs to really push her.

Henderson: I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Andrade in a showdown with Penne. Penne has performed well at strawweight since returning to the division for The Ultimate Fighter 20 and a chance at the UFC’s inaugural strawweight belt. However, Penne’s true home is at atomweight, where she did rise to title status under the Invicta banner. Andrade is coming from the opposite direction. The Brazilian was a bantamweight fighter in her previous UFC appearances. Andrade is now dropping 20 pounds to move to the strawweight class. This could make a difference, even if she will still suffer from a height and reach deficit against the 5-foot-5 Penne.

This doesn’t mean I’m betting the house on Andrade, but it could be a very competitive fight. Andrade did beat Pennington, a boxer, in one of their two meetings, and she submitted Pacheco, who is even taller and longer than Penne. When Andrade did take to the Octagon as a bantamweight against Rosi Sexton, a natural flyweight who had moved up to compete in the UFC, Andrade poured on a beating to the British fighter. Penne is going to have her hands full with this opponent, in other words.

What I like about Penne in this match-up is her ability to create scrambles and fight a scrappy fight. She was heavily outgunned by Jędrzejczyk, but she was tough enough to make it into the third round before faltering. Her fight with Waterson was an entertaining battle that Penne was never truly out of until Waterson caught her with an armbar.

Penne’s recent run at 115 pounds proves that she’s an improved fighter from her previous early career stint at strawweight, but Jędrzejczyk and Markos were probably the best strikers she faced in that stretch. The champ pulverized Penne’s face, and Markos, while decent on the feet, is a better wrestler and grappler than she is a striker and Penne only managed a split verdict to claim the win in that affair. Andrade will check in as another of the better strikers to meet Penne at strawweight, and that could mean another uphill battle for Penne.

Andrade is accustomed to competing against bigger, stronger fighters. Penne, meanwhile, has seen some struggles when fighting up at strawweight. I see this as another back-and-forth fight that stays close to the final bell. While I may not bet the house on Andrade, I do think she can edge out Penne on the scorecards.

Are Dan Henderson and Hector Lombard on this card for just another paycheck or can they put on a “Fight of the Night” performance?

Henderson: Henderson is 45 years old and only has two wins in his last eight fights. He’s not a contender anymore, but he always comes to fight. Lombard, meanwhile, has a lot to prove, even if he is already 38 years old and probably on his way out the door as well. Neither of these men is here to mail it in at UFC 199, if that’s what we’re wondering.

Lombard has posted a pretty mediocre 3-3 mark with one no-contest due to a failed drug test. His first fight back after his suspension came earlier this year against Neil Magny. Magny, a rising welterweight contender, delivered a third-round TKO finish that sent Lombard packing for a return to the middleweight division.

Lombard has a long road to get into title contention at either welterweight or middleweight, but a fight with Henderson has an odd way of helping a fighter’s career. Henderson will throw bombs. He’s not afraid to get in an all-out war with opponents, and he has the veteran presence of mind to often stay in fights long enough to recover after getting rocked. His power alone makes him a threat for big upsets — just ask Tim Boetsch about that — while his chin is iffy enough to give opponents a chance for big finishes of their own.

Lombard has plenty of power. The question is whether he chooses to use it or if he plays a timid game out of fear for Henderson’s own performance. Neither of these men wants to lose, but it’s Lombard’s approach to this fight that will determine whether it’s a humdrum affair — not a case of mailing it in, but just a case of playing it too safe — or a complete barn burner. I’m hoping for the latter, but expecting the former.

Franklin: There is a theory that there is a fight out there for everyone and for that reason fighters should be allowed to decide their own fate. Where the public comes in is in their interest in those fights. If no one wants to watch you fight, then you go away.

I struggle with whether or not people still want to see Henderson fight. I remove fighter safety out of the equation because I am not close enough to know where the fighters are health-wise, so let’s leave that to the fighter and the UFC. So, that aside, when you say Henderson versus Lombard, I have to admit I’m intrigued. Both have power and both are strong in the clinch. At this point, Lombard is a little more diverse, because Henderson has resigned himself to loading up that right hand and stalking his opponents.

This may be a “humdrum affair,” but Henderson has built a lot of violence equity over the years. He reminds me of the tough old man at the bar — you know he doesn’t have it like he used to, but you still kinda want somebody to start some shit with him. Henderson walks around with the Bisping overhand and bomb drop ready to go, but I think Lombard can avoid the big shot and find his way to victory.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Franklin: James Vick and Beneil Dariush.

Dariush put together a nice little winning streak of fighters that, when you see them listed, will have you doing a double take: Carlos Diego Ferreira, Daron Cruickshank, Jim Miller and Michael Johnson. This kid was at the point where top-10 opponents were about to become a reality. Then Michael Chiesa came along and shut that down. However, Dariush is still a stud, and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back at this stage in his career.

Vick is no slouch, either. The undefeated “Texecutioner” has choked out Ramsey Nijem and Jake Matthews since entering the UFC. He also has the size advantage — five inches in height and four inches in reach — over Dariush.

I would be very surprised if this was the “Fight of the Night,” but it’s gonna raise some eyebrows for sure. I’ll take Dariush, but not by a wipeout.

Henderson: A good striking war with the potential for a highlight-reel knockout is always a safe pick for a sleeper match-up. Well, Dan Henderson and Hector Lombard are hardly the stuff a “sleeper” is made of, but there’s another promising slugfest much further down the bill when light heavyweights Frank Waisten and Jonathan Wilson clash on the UFC Fight Pass prelims.

The stats?

Wilson is undefeated through seven fights as a pro. If we piece together his amateur record from the various databases, he has an undefeated nine-fight mark with seven finishes via strikes. At the pro level, he’s tallied six victories by way of strikes. That’s 13 of 16 total fights ending with Wilson bashing someone’s face in. At the pro level, he’s only seen the three-minute mark of the first round twice (and both of those contests went beyond the first round). His last two fights, including his UFC debut against Chris Dempsey, ended in just 50 seconds.

The 26-year-old Waisten has a spotless record through 10 professional outings. The Brazilian has seen the three-minute mark on a few more occasions than his counterpart, but he, too, has only been out of the first round twice. His resume consists solely of knockout and TKO finishes.

So, a combined 26 fights and these guys have only seen the second round four times as pros. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t think that sounds like fun?

Pair this card with…

Henderson: A bowl of popcorn. This card holds a lot of potential. There are a number of entertaining battles on the docket, from a possible slugfest between Frank Waisten and Jonathan Wilson on the UFC Fight Pass prelims all the way up to the main event clash of Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping. Sure, some fights could disappoint, but this card is stacked with finishers and fighters who provide fun fights even when they go the distance. Grab that bowl of popcorn and buckle up. It should be a fun ride for fight fans.

Franklin: Beef. Hamburger. Kobe Steak. Filet Mignon. Cheesesteak. Whatever your beef of choice is… You need it for this night, because this card is built on beef. The beef between Bisping and Rockhold is real. The beef between Cruz and Faber is real. These guys don’t like each other and, forgive the pun, but the stakes have never been higher. Faber’s and Bisping’s legacies will be altered if they win on Saturday night, despite what some people might tell you. For all their popularity, both with the fans and the UFC brass, historically there is a lot on the line. Remember, the biggest difference between Terry Bradshaw and Jim Kelly is titles.

Fight Picks

Fight Franklin’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
MW Championship: Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping Rockhold Rockhold
BW Championship: Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber Cruz Cruz
FW: Max Holloway vs. Ricardo Lamas Holloway Holloway
MW: Dan Henderson vs. Hector Lombard Lombard Lombard
LW: Dustin Poirier vs. Bobby Green Green Poirier
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Cole Miller vs. Alex Caceres Caceres Miller
FW: Clay Guida vs. Brian Ortega Ortega Ortega
LW: James Vick vs. Beneil Dariush Dariush Dariush
Women’s StrawW: Jessica Penne vs. Jessica Andrade Penne Andrade
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:15 p.m. ET)
WW: Sean Strickland vs. Tom Breese Breese Breese
LHW: Frank Waisten vs. Jonathan Wilson Waisten Waisten
MW: Kevin Casey vs. Elvis Mutapcic Casey Mutapcic
LW: Dong Hyun Kim vs. Polo Reyes Kim Reyes