Anderson Silva’s second drug test failure not only served to muddy his iconic MMA legacy but also put Michael Bisping’s credentials as a “company man” to an uncomfortable test.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday morning -- 3:45 a.m. ET, to be specific -- will stage its first-ever card in mainland China, with UFC Fight Night 122 emanating from the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. Silva was slated to headline against Kelvin Gastelum until Nov. 10, when “The Spider” was flagged for a potential drug violation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. In his stead, we get recently dethroned UFC middleweight champion Bisping, who just three weeks ago was bloodied, beaten and choked unconscious by Georges St. Pierre in the middle of Madison Square Garden at UFC 217. While this may be a shining example of “The Count’s” valor and fighting ethos, it is certainly not a good look for modern MMA morality from the sport’s biggest promotion.
Regardless, Bisping’s clash with Gastelum will be his 29th in the Octagon, the most appearances in UFC history. He will now be the only fighter to headline two UFC cards in the same month. Whether or not that is something to celebrate seems to largely depend on how he fares against the 26-year-old Gastelum, who is 12 years his junior.
The otherwise maligned undercard may not turn your crank, but even if you do not set your alarm for a dreadful hour, it is safe to say you will use your UFC Fight Pass account to check out the headliner, so let us get onto the odds and analysis for UFC Fight Night 122:
MiddleweightMichael Bisping (30-8) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (13-3, 1 NC)
ODDS: Gastelum (-300), Bisping (+250)
ANALYSIS: The worst has already been said for Bisping’s matchup with Gastelum. The style clash in this ad hoc headliner is obvious; it is a question of whether or not “The Count” has recuperated enough after the toll of the Georges St. Pierre loss to execute over 25 minutes, or perhaps less.
Bisping may be 38 years old and on a three-week turnaround after the biggest fight (and defeat) of his career, but even with that wear and tear -- and his perpetually questionable right eye -- he remains in a much better position than other elite middleweights to take this bout on short notice, given his outstanding conditioning. The Brit is a tireless worker in the gym and never far removed from fight shape, and his fitness remains the catalyst for the rest of his high-volume, attrition-based striking attack. He will have four inches of arm and leg reach on his opponent and will need to utilize it, in hopes of drawing Gastelum into deep waters where Bisping’s cardio can pay dividends.
There are still questions as to whether or not Gastelum is simply an elite welterweight with dietary indiscretions; these conversations may have some currency, but Gastelum is not out of his depth against top-flight 185-pounders. Sure, he was choked out in the third round of his July bout with Chris Weidman, but he also nearly knocked out the former UFC champ late in Round 1. Never mind that Weidman was a miserable style match for him. Gastelum faces a reach disadvantage, but he possesses an outstanding, steady jab -- a punch that has constantly found Bisping’s face throughout his career and was a primary weapon for St. Pierre just weeks ago. It is behind that jab that Gastelum launches his heavy punching combinations and sets up his takedowns.
The fighters that have beaten Gastelum -- Weidman, Tyron Woodley and Neil Magny -- were all fighters that either had an outright wrestling advantage or, in the case of Magny, cleverly used the clinch to slow the Arizona native. Bisping will not do much clinching, and should he be taken down, he will work his hardest to shrimp and scramble back to his feet with quickness. Gastelum will no doubt be aware of this and work a measured pace behind the aforementioned jab, waiting to land with gusto on a lazy Bisping.
Even without Bisping having taken considerable damage three weeks ago, Gastelum would be a prime candidate to clock him with a sudden right hand and storm him with ground-and-pound or a submission in transition; the Brit’s short turnaround only enhances this dynamic. Worse, Bisping’s style is at its most effective when he can confidently defuse his foes, then pile up the points with extended punching and kicking combinations. That just does not seem likely with Gastelum’s home-run power and legitimate wrestling chops. Gastelum via competitive division is the pick, though a mid-to-late-round stoppage is distinctly possible.
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