Michael Bisping has made great strides, but he must continue to evolve. (Photo credit)
2012 saw the debut of Michael Bisping version 2.0. As 2011 came to an end, Bisping understood that the caliber of competition in his weight class was drastically changing and he would have to evolve in leaps and bounds if he wanted to maintain his status as a top contender at 185 lbs. The blatant difference between the Michael Bisping from 2009-2011 and the Michael Bisping of today shows us that his mission to vastly improve his striking, grappling, and conditioning over a rather short period of time was undeniably successful.
Michael Bisping went from an all-around mediocre competitor to one of the most impressive athletes in the UFC by re-inventing his physical abilities to overcome those of the intimidating wave of talent that threatened to push him out of the title picture.
Now, it’s déjà vu all over again as Bisping is faced with the same task in 2013. This time, however, he’ll have to work on a lot more than his cardio and stand-up game to prevent yet another wave of even more intimidating talent from stealing his opportunities to win the middleweight championship. There’s a whole crew of highly-skilled middleweights who have just entered the UFC that are looking to make a run for the belt by taking out the big dogs as soon as possible.
We’ve got former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold. Then there’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Light heavyweight contender Gegard Mousasi has almost solidified that he’ll be moving down a weight class in the not-so-distant future. Costa Philippou and Chris Weidman have been in the UFC for a few years already but they have only recently attained the multi-faceted skill sets that make them formidable opponents for the best middleweights in the world.
Bisping already proved that he possesses the determination to fully adapt to a higher level of competition. But here’s what Michael Bisping 3.0 is going to have to do that Michael Bisping 2.0 did not.
The new Michael Bisping has only had to defend a specific type of attack in each of his matches. His opponents each tried to do just one of three things: out-point him, knock him out, or take him down. They didn’t really mix it up by combining or alternating these tactics. Just about every member of this new wave of middleweights, however, loves to mix it up.
Rockhold, Souza, Mousasi, Weidman and Philippou have all been known to switch between shooting take downs, clinching against the cage, and, of course, throwing powerful and accurate strikes. Since the key to beating an athlete like Bisping is immobilization, these fighters will most likely rush him with alternating series of tie-ups, take downs and strikes.
The purpose of these offensives will be to not only corner Bisping or just force him to back up, but also to prevent him from finding his rhythm. Bisping will be dodging flurries, breaking out of tie-ups, countering punches and slipping away from take down attempts one after the other, all in one match. This will greatly decrease his opportunities to score points unless he can master the extremely complicated art of connecting while back peddling -- at least until the other guy gets too tired and Bisping can pick him apart.
But before this point, Bisping will have to constantly stop clinches with punches, elbows and knees, sprawl successively if shot on, all while avoiding knockout blows by bouncing around the octagon like he always does.
Bisping has drastically improved his ground game, but we’ve never really seen him fight off his back or from the turtle position for extended periods of time. He proved that he can get back up pretty quickly after being taken down by an accomplished wrestler in the Chael Sonnen fight.
Yet anyone who has kept tabs on the career of Ronaldo Souza knows that his aggression and mind-boggling sequences are unrivaled in the division. Chris Weidman put on a Jiu-Jitsu clinic in the first round of his fight with Mark Munoz that completely took the wrestler out of his element.
If Souza or Weidman manages to take their opponents’ back or, even worse, gain side control, only the most experienced fighters can save themselves from being submitted. This is because the simple scramble usually doesn’t work against BJJ practitioners of this caliber.
The idea of Michael Bisping escaping Souza or Weidman’s clutches from one of these positions seems highly unlikely unless he obtains an understanding of how to counter their smothering pressure with his own wild agility. He doesn’t necessarily need to know how to effectively slap on the usual canon of holds to combat this grappling; he just needs to know how they are set up from different angles. That way, Bisping could use the same energy of his stand-up to nullify the frustrated opponents’ favorite moves while making his way back up.
Michael Bisping will probably have to beat at least two out of these four fighters to earn a title shot. These victories will mean that Bisping has trained both rigorously and wisely enough to combat a changing environment that by all means will eat him alive if he doesn’t add yet another set of weapons to his seemingly content arsenal.
The only fighters who have stayed atop their division for as long as Bisping aspires to are the greatest champions of the UFC, and a second evolutionary leap forward will indeed solidify his candidacy for this status.
By: Sean Levinson