Michael Bisping has not recorded back-to-back wins since 2011. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday makes its first trip to Scotland with a solid offering on Fox Sports 1. In the main event, perennial top-10 middleweight Michael Bisping takes on the resurgent Thales Leites in a bout with real implications for the top of the middleweight division. A staple of the UFC’s early efforts in the United Kingdom, this will be Bisping’s first fight on his home island in nearly five years.
The rest of the card is full of fighters from the U.K., with a few others from Ireland and The Old Continent rounding out things. Ross Pearson takes on Evan Dunham in a solid lightweight banger; Joanne Calderwood takes on Cortney Casey in a fun women’s strawweight matchup; and rising Irish star Joseph Duffy gets something of a showcase matchup against Ivan Jorge. A few promising prospects -- Leon Edwards and Scotsman Steven Ray -- get a chance for statement wins. This event is not must-see viewing by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer some interest for dedicated followers and regional fans.
Let us take a look at each UFC Fight Night 72 “Bisping vs. Leites” matchup:
MIDDLEWEIGHTSMichael Bisping (26-7, 16-7 UFC) vs. Thales Leites (25-4, 10-3 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: Former middleweight title challenger Leites gets a big opportunity to throw himself into contention in his second run in the promotion. The venerable Bisping has been around forever and is one of the longest-tenured fighters in the promotion. He has alternated wins and losses in his last eight fights, finishing Cung Le in August, coming up short against Luke Rockhold in November and beating C.B. Dollaway in April. Leites is 5-0 since returning to the UFC, with finishes of Tim Boetsch, Francis Carmont and Trevor Smith in his last three. The winner will have a real claim on an elite opponent, and with Father Time creeping up on Bisping, this will likely be his last, best chance.
Bisping is a striker by preference and embodies the prototypical out-fighter. He circles and moves in behind a crisp, consistent jab that serves to measure, score and obscure his opponent’s vision and then follows it with a long right hand. The occasional left hook completes his arsenal, but he mostly relies on that 1-2, and he almost exclusively targets the head. Over his last several fights, he has shown a much more consistent and effective kicking arsenal. Where Bisping once mixed in only the occasional low kick, he has shown more dedication to middle and high kicks and even the odd spinning back kick. While not a defensive mastermind, Bisping’s high-profile knockout losses have unfairly pegged him as easy to hit, which he is not. He rarely sticks around after throwing, moves his head fairly well and is willing to exchange in the pocket.
The rest of Bisping’s skills range between solid and excellent. He is very difficult to take down, and his ability to hip out and pop back to his feet means that even outstanding MMA wrestlers have struggled to keep him on the mat. From his back, Bisping’s guard is active and hard to pass. Although he uses them only rarely, he can hit the occasional double or trip of his own. The real strength of Bisping’s game is his cardio and offensive output. He throws at a consistent clip from the opening bell, and few opponents have been able to keep up with him.
No longer the one-dimensional grappler he was when he suffered an ignominious release from the UFC in 2009, Leites has expanded his game in every area. As a striker, he packs real power in both hands and can operate moving forward aggressively and landing step-back counters on overeager opponents. Between his headhunting punching combinations, Leites slips in vicious left and right low kicks. There are two real problems with his approach on the feet, however, namely his limited offensive output and highly suspect defense.
Leites excels in the tie-ups. He does a good job of punching his way into the clinch and has a nice repertoire of inside and outside trips; on exits, he sneaks in hard punches and knees. Shot takedowns are not Leites’ strongest suit, but he is more than competent. Grappling is the Brazilian’s real strength, however, particularly from top position. He passes beautifully and is difficult to shake off, and he has one of the sharpest, tightest arm-triangle chokes in all of MMA.
BETTING ODDS: Bisping (-125), Leites (+105)
THE PICK: I confess to being puzzled by those odds, as I would have assumed that Bisping would be a much bigger favorite. Leites’ five-fight winning streak is nothing at which to sneeze, but nobody he has beaten is anywhere close to Bisping’s level and there is no real sign that the Englishman is slowing down. More importantly, the stylistic matchup seems to drastically favor Bisping. Leites is not an ace wrestler and Bisping is difficult to plant on the mat, while on the feet, the Brazilian is a hard puncher but not a terribly active or crafty one. Barring a big punch, I expect Bisping to stuff the takedowns, work his way out of the clinch and wear down Leites with a steady stream of offensive output. The pick is Bisping by knockout in the third round.
Next Fight » Ross Pearson vs. Evan Dunham