UFC 105 was a little ways back but I wasn't about to let Michael Bisping's incredible guard work against Denis Kang go unremarked. The fight was a classic example of the way the momentum can shift in an MMA bout at the highest levels and the way victory goes to the fighter who excels at defense as well as offense.
Here's my live report from the time of the fight so you can refresh yourself on the see-saw nature of the fight and the way Bisping's defense prevented Kang from capitalizing when he had top position -- even after dropping Bisping with a hard right hand. And in Round 2, the way Bisping was able to brutalize Kang when the tables were turned:
Michael Bisping vs Denis Kang Two fighters looking for redemption here. Great matchmaking. Bisping's hair is longer than I've ever seen it. Round 1 Bisping with a high kick. Kang with a leg kick. Bisping grabs a kick. Kang gets free. Lots of feints here. Kang drops him with a right. Follows him down, into Bisping's full guard. Gets to half-guard quickly. Kang gets to side-mount. Bisping regains 1/2 guard. Bisping defending well from the bottom. Kang is focused on passing. Tries for mount, Bisping back to 1/2 guard. Kang gets mount. Bisping hips out again! Great defense from Bisping on the bottom. Kang gets to mount again. Bisping back to 1/2 guard! Bisping back to full guard. Kang throwing elbows, Bisping goes for an armbar, Kang goes to side-control. Bisping back to 1/2 guard. Bloody Elbow scores it 10-9 for Denis Kang. Round 2 Bisping's been told to circle right. We'll see if he does it. Circling left already. Kang jabbing. Kang with a big right, misses. Kang throwing jabs. Kang looking to land the right. Bisping fires a high kick, misses. Bisping shoots, gets a single, turns the corner, has him down. Kang in guard. Bisping firing hard shots from the top. Crowd is going crazy. Bisping scoring with ground and pound. Kang stands but he's bloodied. Bisping shoots again. Dropping elbows. Kang is taking a beating. Back to his feet. Kang is very bloodied. Kang is wobbled. Bisping scores with two lefts. A combination. Kang is staggered. They're trading. Bisping gets another takedown. More ground and pound. Knees to the body of a turtled Kang. The ref stops it. Huge win for Michael Bisping by TKO at 4:24 of the second round.
One thing to keep in mind is that Kang is the one with the black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who has trained for years at the American Top Team. The fact that Bisping was able to beat Kang at his own game should impress any observer.
Let's look at some gifs in the full entry.
Gifs by Chris Nelson.
On the left we see Kang in side mount, shortly after dropping Bisping with a right hand. Bisping manages to turn onto his side, scoot his hips up and claim half-guard by wrapping both legs around Kang's left leg. In a post-fight interview, Bisping gave the credit for his jiu jitsu performance to his coach Mario "Sucata" Neto, the head jiu jitsu trainer at the Wolf's Lair Gym in Liverpool.
Old-timers will remember Neto from his losses to Dan Severn and Kevin Randleman back in the day and also his infamous win over Gary Goodridge which came when Goodridge tapped out "for no apparent reason". Neto had a recent run in the UFC but lost to Eddie Sanchez at UFC 63. More recently he lost to Stefan Struve.
Back to the action. On the right we see Kang working to escape from Bisping's half-guard, only to end up back where he began, with his left leg firmly trapped between Bisping's thighs. Note how Kang straightens his left leg, then scoots his right foot up to hold Bisping's left thigh down. He then steps out wide with his leg leg and goes to step over Bisping's hips with his right foot. He should have mount position at that point, but Bisping just will not stop wriggling and immediately thrusts his right knee in front of Kang's left thigh and simultaneously gets his left calf behind Kang's knee. Presto, back to half-guard.
It's the kind of one step forward, one step back that must seem like inexplicable tedium to the untrained fan, but if you know what Kang is trying to do and what the implications of being mounted by a dangerous opponent like Denis Kang, then you realize the magnitude of what Bisping has done. It's like seeing a hard fought goal line stand in football.
In the gif on the left we see that Kang has managed to attain mount about twenty seconds later, but not for long as Bisping once again turns completely on his left side and uses the space thereby created to hook Kang's right leg between his thighs. Note how Bisping gets control of Kang's right wrist to help with the maneuver.
One thing that really sunk in with me when I read Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's Mastering Mixed Martial Arts: THE GUARD was the importance of turning the hips when working from your back. Bisping's work here is a textbook example of what Nogueira teaches. It also reminds me of Brock Lesnar's great grappling work against Frank Mir at UFC 100 when he kept Mir's hips completely flat on the mat.
On the right Kang is once again mounted on Bisping and is just looking to rear back his right hand and commence punching when Bisping bucks with his hips and rolls to his left side. He uses his right arm to pin Kang's right to his torso briefly as he gets his left leg out from under Kang. Then he rolls again to his right side and uses his left arm to try and get around Kang's left arm. In the commotion he is able to re-establish half-guard.
On the left we see Bisping get back to full guard ten seconds later. He uses his right elbow to wedge under Kang's left thigh then introduces his right knee into the very small space he's created. From there he scoots his hips again and viola: full guard.
What Bisping is succeeding in doing in all of these sequences is making the fight about position rather than about Kang inflicting damage with strikes from top position. As long as Kang is struggling to get dominant position, he's not working on getting his arms free to batter Bisping.
Finally, on the right we see Kang in side control working for north-south position. But as he throws his right leg up, Bisping grabs it, pushes it back down, shrimps onto his left side and amazingly worms his legs around Kang's left leg. But he only pauses in half-guard for less than a second as he immediately seizes the opportunity to wrap up Kang's other leg and establish full guard.
You can almost see Denis Kang's UFC career draining away as Bisping again and again manages to deny him the dominant position he needs to do damage from the top.
In the second round Bisping got top position repeatedly, and unlike Kang, was able to do significant damage quickly each time he got Kang on his back. It didn't take long before he finished Kang from top position. But you have to think that the damage he inflicted on Kang's morale with his impermeable defense in the first round was the first devastating blow in the battle.
As always, the Judo Chop is a communal learning project so if you see something I missed, please point it out in the comments.