A title shot has thus far eluded Michael “The Count” Bisping. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog.com
If the animosity, or lack thereof, between Canada and Australia on “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” left you wanting more, fear not fight fans: Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy have you covered. The two middleweights have been trading barbs on social media, blogs and YouTube for months now, setting the stage for a chippy headliner on Wednesday at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Now that the talking -- and tweeting -- is done, all that remains is for the two rivals to settle their feud in the Octagon.
By comparison, relations between opposing “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” coaches Kyle Noke and Patrick Cote were positively cordial. With both men looking to make a mark in the welterweight division, their interaction in the cage should prove to be far more interesting than what went down on set. In addition, middleweight and welterweight winners from the reality show will be crowned, adding to the perpetually expanding list of athletes who can call themselves “Ultimate Fighters.”
Here is a closer look at “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” Finale card, with analysis and picks:
MiddleweightsMichael Bisping (24-5, 14-5 UFC) vs. Tim Kennedy (17-4, 2-0 UFC)
The Matchup: These days, calling out Bisping seems to be an essential part of the game plan for anyone looking to make a name in the middleweight division. Although he has yet to hold a belt himself, “The Count” remains a prominent figure in the promotion, enough so that a victory against him could launch the right opponent into title contention.
Kennedy’s animosity toward the Brit goes all the way back to UFC 127, where Bisping defeated his Ranger Up comrade Jorge Rivera. The fight was mired in controversy, as Bisping landed an illegal knee in round one that Rivera’s team labeled intentional. After Bisping earned the technical knockout win in the second frame, he yelled and spit in the direction of Rivera’s corner. Like Rivera before him, Kennedy has taken to YouTube to mock Bisping, and the two have also traded jabs all over the Internet.
Whether the animosity is real or manufactured matters little come fight night, however. Of greater concern is if Bisping experiences any lingering effects after a lengthy recovery process for a detached retina suffered in training. While even Bisping himself has said the eye will never be exactly the same, he has been cleared to compete inside the Octagon.
Kennedy is a tough draw for a comeback fight. While the former U.S. Army Special Forces member is not always pretty to watch, he is extremely tenacious and nearly impossible to put away. His only losses while competing for Strikeforce and the Ultimate Fighting Championship have come in five-round affairs against top-10 foes Ronaldo Souza and Luke Rockhold. Kennedy showed a different element to his game at UFC Fight Night 31, where he knocked out Rafael Natal with a jumping left hook late in the first round of their headlining bout. For the most part, Kennedy has not been a knockout artist on the feet, but his boxing has proven to be more than good enough to help him pressure his opponents. That could change as he continues to develop at Jackson-Wink MMA.
No matter what, expect Kennedy to be in Bisping’s face from the outset. The Strikeforce veteran will attempt to land takedowns and drain “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner in the clinch. It is possible that Kennedy could try to make this bout look something like Bisping’s meeting with Chael Sonnen in January 2012, although the Strikeforce veteran is not nearly the decorated wrestler that Sonnen is. Even though Bisping lost the Sonnen fight via decision, he more than held his own with former NCAA All-American in the clinch, and he was often able to quickly return to his feet when taken down.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out over a five-round fight. Conditioning should not be an issue for either man. Bisping, with his boxing, movement and footwork, is the more technical striker, but he is rarely a knockout threat. Some of this has to do with his reliance on straight punches, which are most effective when he can bait an opponent into chasing him. If Kennedy is able to circle effectively, Bisping will have to vary his attack a little more.
Bisping has been known to mix in the occasional takedown himself, but Kennedy’s defensive wrestling is solid, making it far more likely that “The Count” stays on his bicycle to attempt to control the distance.
If Kennedy can get takedowns consistently, especially as time progresses, he is smothering from top position. Even if he struggles to control Bisping on the mat, Kennedy can stay busy with dirty boxing and knees in the clinch. However, it is worth noting that before he was able to land the knockout blow against Natal, Kennedy ate his share of straight punches and leg kicks as he struggled to track down his Brazilian opponent. Bisping is far more advanced than Natal in terms of movement and striking, so Kennedy will need to do a better job of cutting off the cage.
The Pick: This could go either way, but look for Kennedy’s persistence to pay off as he gradually outworks Bisping to capture a narrow decision.
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