Former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva returns from a lengthy and embarrassing PED-related suspension, and at age 40, any fight could conceivably be his last.
Silva will meet “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner and perennial middleweight contender Michael Bisping in the UFC Fight Night 84 featured attraction on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. In the co-headliner, former Dream and Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi faces the resurgent Thales Leites. The rest of the four-fight main card shines the spotlight on undefeated Tristar Gym prospect Tom Breese -- he takes on Keita Nakamura -- and American Top Team bantamweight Brad Pickett, who has been paired opposite Francisco Rivera at 135 pounds.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Silva vs. Bisping” matchup, with analysis and picks:
MiddleweightsAnderson Silva (33-6) vs Michael Bisping (27-7)
THE MATCHUP: Though Silva ruled the middleweight division for many years, it was BIsping who truly embodied the weight class. Middleweight has always been characterized by its, well, “middleness.” The men are big and thus generally less athletic than their smaller brethren, but they are not so big that they can knock out any opponent with a single punch. In fact, fight results at middleweight are almost perfectly split between knockouts, submissions and decisions. On the whole, it is an average division with far more journeymen than masters.
Bisping is the king of these journeymen. He has always been just one big win away from a crack at the title, and yet his every venture into the upper echelon has ended in disaster. As journeymen are wont to do, however, Bisping is getting better. His recent wins over C.B. Dollaway and Thales Leites were the best of his career, his performances more consistent and controlled than ever before. That makes this matchup extremely compelling, as Silva’s own recent clashes with the elite were tragically one-sided. His first loss to Chris Weidman was devastating, and the second only served to emphasize the impression that “The Spider” may, for the first time, be just another middleweight.
Silva and Bisping are best from long-range. Silva is likely a converted southpaw, as his best weapon has always been his right hand. He has a quick and crushingly powerful jab, and when he does let his left hand go, the deadly right hook usually follows. He is also an adept and creative kicker. Silva was side kicking knees while Jon Jones was still wrestling at Iowa Central Community College. He spurred a sport-wide trend when he sent Vitor Belfort into oblivion with a front kick to the chin. The head kick with which he floored Yushin Okami at UFC 134, cleverly hidden behind a throwaway straight left, remains one of my favorite MMA highlights.
Bisping’s own attempts at creative kicks have not been so impressive -- Silva was happy to remind everyone of the time “The Count” accidently spin kicked his pad holder in the face during an open workout -- but his basic kicking arsenal demands respect.
Defense would seem to be a major difference between these two, but the skill gap has decreased noticeably in the last few years. In his fight with Stephan Bonnar, Silva got by on the last vestiges of his chin as much as he did head movement. Weidman knocked him down in both of their fights, and Nick Diaz landed plenty of clean punches against him. Bisping, on the other hand, is no longer the man who gets tagged by every right hand his opponent throws. He is more comfortable slipping and rolling under punches than ever before, and his non-stop angular footwork makes up for lapses in defensive technique.
Bisping also keeps a pace that could trouble Silva, who has always been patient to a fault. “The Count” is a high-volume out-fighter, constantly changing his angles of attack and the weapons with which he exploits them. Silva is more of a counterfighter, happy to let the clock run out while he sizes up his openings.
THE ODDS: Silva (-305), Bisping (+250)
THE PICK: I fully expect this fight to be as close as Silva’s tilt with Diaz. Bisping does not seem to have slowed down at all, while Silva seems to be wearing his 40 years on his sleeve. However, Silva’s power and accuracy are still there, and while Bisping’s defense has improved, he still gets hurt in just about every fight. Considering his well-known vulnerability to the overhand right, I suspect that Bisping is actually most vulnerable against southpaws. It was not a good idea to let Silva hurt you when he was champ, and it is not a good idea now. “The Spider” is one of the greatest finishers in the history of the sport. However valiant his effort, it is hard to shake the image of Bisping on his back, futilely trying to fend off Silva’s smart bombs. Silva wins via second-round knockout.
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