Michael Bisping saved the show for the live crowd, but make no mistake - tonight was a bad night for British MMA. The nation's top three martial artists competed this evening and one thing was abundantly clear - we may have to wait for the next generation of British fighters to finally crown an English UFC champion.
While Bisping decisioned judo sensation Yoshihiro Akiyama, he did so in a manner that makes his long term success at the top of the middleweight division questionable. Bisping unloaded punch after punch on an exhausted Akiyama and never once rattled him. It was enough to win on points, but his inability to hurt his opponents will come back to haunt the Manchester born fighter in future fights.
Not only is Bisping seemingly incapable of a fight finishing strike, he's still making the same mistakes that have cost him time and again. Bisping can be hit, and when it happens, he loses his composure too often. All his careful training is forgotten and he retreats with his chin high, waiting for the punch that will end his night. To make matters worse, his instinct is to circle left, right into his opponent's power hand. Akiyama made him pay several times. It's a habit he desperately needs to correct.
Welterweight Dan Hardy seemed poised to succeed Bisping as the king of the Brits. An interesting and colorful character outside the cage, Hardy was elevated quickly into a title match with Georges St. Pierre. He was outmatched against the champion, but being in the main event at all seemed to solidify his status as something special. That's going to change after a thunderous Carlos Condit left hook ended his night in a hurry.
Hardy was supposed to be the dangerous striker; Condit was the grappler from Greg Jackson's camp who was going to stifle him. Instead, Condit beat him to the punch time and again, scoring the crisper punches and landing a succession of leg kicks. His amazing left hand is one for the highlight reels - more than anything it highlights that Hardy belongs in the middle of the pack at 170, not at his lofty position in the top 10.
While Hardy and Bisping are the "now" fighters in England, John Hathaway was supposed to be the future. An upset win over Diego Sanchez had many proclaiming the young Brit to be a future champion. I was at that fight and saw it differently. I saw a Diego Sanchez who looked disinterested and out of shape. Hathaway didn't wow me - he just took what Diego offered on a silver platter. After, it was confirmed to me that Sanchez had some issues. He's back at Greg Jackson's gym now and looking to put things back together.
That's an extended director's cut version of this simple point: Hathaway hadn't impressed me yet. After tonight, that still remains true. Mike Pyle came in with a gameplan he never altered and it was enough to take him an impressive win. I called this fight for Pyle before the bout, banking on his smarts and strategy to be enough against a prospect that was believing his own hype. Mike Pyle is a solid journeyman fighter, but not someone who has ever lit the world on fire. Like the Sanchez fight, this said more about the loser than the winner. And it says Hathaway is not ready for the bright lights at the top of the division.
There were some bright spots for Brits coming out of the card. More than 17,000 fans came out to see the fights. Prospect Paul Sass remained undefeated and took home submission of the night. And we all got to hear Akiyama's wondrous theme music class up the joint just a little. It was a good night of fights for the fans in the U.K. It just wasn't a good night for the U.K fighters.