Vengeance can be a powerful motivator.
Michael Bisping will try to avenge the most embarrassing defeat of his career when he defends his Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight crown against Dan Henderson in the UFC 204 main event on Saturday at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. Henderson executed a one-punch knockout on Bisping at UFC 100 on July 11, 2009. It remains one of the signature finishes in MMA history.
In the light heavyweight co-headliner, Gegard Mousasi locks horns with Vitor Belfort. The remainder of the five-fight main draw features a light heavyweight clash pairing Ovince St. Preux with Jimi Manuwa, a heavyweight battle pitting Stefan Struve against Daniel Omielanczuk and a featherweight tilt matching Mirsad Bektic with Russell Doane.
Let us take a closer look at UFC 204 “Bisping vs. Henderson 2,” with analysis and picks:
UFC Middleweight ChampionshipMichael Bisping (29-7) vs. Dan Henderson (32-14)
THE MATCHUP: Henderson and Bisping have been on divergent paths since their historic first meeting at UFC 100. Henderson went on to have some of the best performances of his career after losing his Strikeforce debut to Jake Shields, but his famous durability began to wane after the banning of testosterone replacement therapy in MMA; and the speed and scrambling ability followed suit. Since the start of 2013, Henderson has won just three of nine fights, and every one of the victories came against a similarly declining opponent. Even so, his power remains terrifyingly apparent, as all three of those wins have come via knockout. So, too, was the win over Bisping seven years ago.
Bisping, on the other hand, has made a number of improvements since UFC 100. He has lost five times but only to some of the best fighters in the division -- physical powerhouses like Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort. The Sonnen fight was much disputed and Belfort, like “Hendo” himself at the start of 2013, was clearly enjoying the benefits of TRT. Bisping has won more than he has lost, too, finding victory in 12 of 17 fights since UFC 100. Most of the wins were not particularly noteworthy, but Bisping’s latest run is undeniably the best of his career. He bested Anderson Silva in a tough, back-and-forth fight which saw “The Spider” hit the deck two times. Three months later, Bisping avenged his loss to Rockhold, knocking out the middleweight champion in the first round despite taking the fight on just two weeks’ notice.
It was no dumb luck that saw “The Count” put together his current streak. Jason Parillo has been a fixture in Bisping’s corner since his fight with Brian Stann in 2012, and while Bisping has suffered three losses in that time, he has also made marked improvements in all areas of his striking technique. The Bisping who fought Henderson was flighty and fidgety, uncomfortably high on his toes and accidentally pulling his punches for fear of the counter. The Bisping who won the title and beat Silva was settled down, balanced between both feet and capable of evading and countering at just about any time. Power came with those improvements, and that is how Bisping turned into, in his own words, “Left Hook Larry.”
Nowadays, Henderson tends to fight with a patient, stalking approach. He throws short, chopping kicks, often using these to destabilize his opponent and unleash his famously powerful right hand. Henderson is an imposing presence in spite of his years. He stalks forward in a sort of semi-crouch, keeping his right hand cocked and loaded beside his jaw. The posture is reminiscent of a man carrying a bazooka on his shoulder, ready to fire. Two of Henderson’s most recent wins have come as the result of his long experience. Both Hector Lombard and Mauricio Rua were felled in the midst of wild clinch exchanges.
Bisping’s style has not changed, but it has grown more flexible with technical improvements. Bisping is more comfortable setting his feet and letting his hands go, which, perhaps counterintuitively, should help him avoid Henderson’s power and find his chin. Neither man is particularly durable, but Bisping still recuperates well, while Henderson has been easier and easier to shake with each passing year.
THE ODDS: Bisping (-225), Henderson (+190)
THE PICK: I love this fight. So, sue me. Henderson is a legend of MMA, and he deserves this one last chance to win the UFC title, having already won belts in Pride Fighting Championships and Strikeforce. Bisping is a legend in his own right and deserves this chance to avenge the most spectacular and, to hear him tell it, humiliating defeat of his career. Henderson has proven time and again that, no matter how much he has faded, he is still extremely dangerous. He cannot, however, match Bisping’s pace, nor can he effectively avoid the fists and feet of the man who has notched more significant strikes than any other in UFC history -- 1,414 of them, in case you were curious. If Henderson wins, it will be a swift counter in the midst of a loose exchange. Against a fighter of Bisping’s class, the chances are slim. Bisping by second-round TKO is the pick.
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