History for Henderson or Vengeance for Bisping?
Tonight, Michael “The Count” Bisping returns to his hometown to fight at the Manchester Arena in the main event of UFC 204. Bisping, the winner of season three of the Ultimate Fighter reality show, has fought in his native country several times, often as the top draw for the cards. However, this is the first time that he will return home to defend his championship, the UFC Middleweight title, a belt he won after he knocked out former champion Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 earlier this year.
Bisping will be challenged by one of the most decorated athletes to ever step into the cage, Dan Henderson, the competitor that knocked him out in devastating fashion in 2009. More than anything, the chance to avenge the loss is what spurred this rematch.
Despite being a replacement on short notice for an injured Chris Weidman, Bisping took the long road to the championship, starting his career in the UK in 2004 and then clawing his way up the ranks for a decade in the UFC before claiming championship gold. The trend of his career was one where he would go on a winning streak and defeated solid competition, but for some reason he just couldn’t defeat some of the more top-tier fighters. For example, early in his UFC career, Bisping went on a four fight win streak before he lost a split decision against Rashad Evans. After that, he won three bouts in a row before the previously mentioned KO loss at UFC 100. Later, he strung together four more victories before he was defeated via decision in a contest with Chael Sonnen in 2012. The next few years yielded mixed results and he garnered a record of 25-7 prior to his fight with CB Dollaway last year.
He won a decision against Dollaway, the start of his current four fight win streak. The combination of a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a boxing background allowed Bisping to be well-rounded without any obvious flaws in his game. He has always won enough to keep himself in the conversation, but as mentioned, just didn’t have a signature win on his resume to justify a title shot. But just a few months prior to the Rockhold pay-per-view match, he defeated Anderson Silva via unanimous decision. Granted, the aging Silva is not the same competitor he was during the prime of his career a few year ago, but still dangerous and a win against him is still a notable accomplishment. Michael Bisping was the underdog heading into the title fight, as the odds favored the champion since Rockhold had submitted him in their initial fight in 2014. As mentioned, Bisping knocked out Rockhold in the fourth round to claim the title.
The once brash Brit that enjoyed playing the role of the villain was now a humble champion.
At UFC 204, Dan Henderson will look to deliver a repeat performance and land his trademark right hand, adding UFC gold to his collection, which is the only major MMA belt he hasn’t won. A former Olympic wrestler, Henderson has numerous accolades from his time in the amateur ranks. He made a name for himself fighting in Pride, where he held titles simultaneously in welterweight and middleweight divisions. He actually won a UFC middleweight tournament early in his career, but didn’t start full-time with the promotion until Zuffa bought Pride in 2007. During the next two years, he had a record of 3-2 in the UFC, including the UFC 100 win before he opted to seek a better deal with Strike Force. Henderson fought there four times and won the Strike Force light heavyweight belt, along with defeating the legendary Fedor Emelianenko before the company was also bought by the UFC in 2011.
Upon his return to the Zuffa banner, Henderson defeated Shogun Rua in one of the greatest fights of all time. But, following the epic war, he went on a three fight skid, leaving the legendary grappler’s career in doubt. He defeated Rua via TKO in a rematch before a pair of losses again prompted some to call for his retirement. He defeated Tim Boetsch before a loss to Vitor Belfort brought his record to 31-14 prior to his fight with Hector Lombard at UFC 199, the same event where Michael Bisping won the middleweight championship. Lombard was favored to win the contest, but Henderson shocked the crowd in attendance when he knocked out his younger opponent with a vicious elbow and followed up with ground strikes before the referee called for the stoppage.
At 46, many have doubted Dan Henderson in the past, saying it was time for him to retire, but he managed to win to keep his career moving forward. Can he shock the world and win the only MMA belt that has alluded him?
In truth, the only aspect that justifies this rematch is that Henderson knocked out Bisping with a highlight reel moment seven years old. Since that time, Bisping has sharpened his skills, training with a variety of styles while Henderson has gotten older. Don’t get me wrong, all Henderson has to do is to land one punch, but there were certain times when his performances were hit or miss during the past few years. In an odd irony, Henderson has won enough in recent years to justify that his career continues similar to how Bisping once won enough to keep himself in the conversation as a contender.
At this point, UFC 204 is an entirely different bout than their original UFC 100 contest. As mentioned, Bisping earned his way to the championship and in the process, earned the respect of many fans that previously looked forward to the seeing him get KO’ed. Henderson is unanimously respected by his peers and fans, but it’s a fair question to wonder how much age will factor into the fight. While some might assume that another potential KO is the way for Henderson to win the belt, I would suggest that it will take an entirely different strategy for the multi-time champion to win a UFC title. It seems like Henderson will be at a speed disadvantage and if he only looks for the chance to land the right hand, it could allow Bisping to score the points necessary to win a decision. In fact, some of Henderson’s previous decision losses were a result of when he looked just for the right hand and in the process made himself one-dimensional despite his lengthy amateur background.
If Henderson is going to be victorious, he will have to use more than just the right hand and if nothing else, at least use his wrestling skills to set up the strikes. Again, age could play a factor because these two polished pros aren’t going to take any unnecessary chances so it’s very possible this fight goes five rounds, which will require proper cardio. If anyone could win a UFC championship at 46, it’s Dan Henderson, but I have to say that I will pick Bisping to retain the title. That said, it would be great to see the legendary veteran conclude his career as a champion and he displayed many times during his nearly twenty year career that all it takes is one punch for him to win, which is why this is an intriguing fight.
Until next week
image credit – UFC
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