With the UFC's middleweight king Anderson Silva effectively declaring himself nonpareil by crushing the last man who gave him a decent fight at UFC 148, attention will now inevitably turn to building up another contender for Silva in a division of men who pose little threat or have already fought him. The obvious choice is Vitor Belfort, who will continue to be fed opponents that he is likely to KO in the first round, hoping to set up a rematch and play up the "fluke" angle of Silva and Belfort's first meeting. Aside from that there is the mildly interesting prospect of a match with Alan Belcher, one of the few "Jack of all trades" types in the middleweight division. If Hector Lombard can get past Tim Boetsch without gassing, a Silva vs Lombard match is also a possibility. In the meantime, one man who has come to the foreground of the middleweight picture is British striker, Michael Bisping.
Bisping has faced much criticism throughout his career for being a fairly protected fighter and his traditional position in the UFC is to fight middling opposition with limited threat of a takedown as a big name for British cards. Stepping in at short notice to fight Chael Sonnen, however, Bisping showed uncharacteristically strong takedown defense for a British fighter against an elite wrestler. Proving that he can definitely hang with a top 5 fighter, and indeed, a top level wrestler, was an enormous step forward for Michael Bisping, and now as he speaks out and challenges Anderson Silva, it is certainly a lot easier to take him seriously.
Michael Bisping has made his mark in MMA through his technical kickboxing game, which is as good as any in MMA, and it is that which I intend to examine in this article. When Michael Bisping met Jason Miller at the end of one of the many seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, many fans were rooting for Miller - who was believed to be a legitimate top 10 middleweight at the time. Unfortunately, up to that point Miller's biggest recent win was over a Kazushi Sakuraba who looked so far from his old self that it was in no small way upsetting to see him fighting.
While Miller's position in the middleweight division was significantly exaggerated by many he was still a threat to Bisping as a well rounded fighter with excellent Jiu Jitsu. Bisping's dismantling of Miller was to my mind Bisping's best showing to date. After the fight many commented that they had never seen an elite level mixed martial artist with striking as poor as Miller's. In truth, Miller's striking was not as bad as some that has been seen in the octagon (time for another Matt Riddle name check?), but Bisping clinically punished Miller for every slight over-commitment or bad habit that the American showed.
The chief amongst Miller's technical error's was his over-commitment to ducking the jab, which Bisping used to mount most of his successful offense. After the jump I shall demonstrate just how Bisping was able to ruthlessly exploit Miller's otherwise adequate striking to the point of embarrassment.
The first thing to be said is that I often encourage and preach the benefits of the dipping jab. While jabbing it is important to take the head off of the centreline with a slight bend at the waist. I observed that Scott Jorgensen was coming in so upright against Eddie Wineland that Wineland could throw back without looking and know where Jorgensen's head was. The fight game is, however, one of adaptation. The same tactic can not be counted on throughout a fight and as soon as it is countered once, it should be abandoned until it can be brought back safely and as a surprise at a later time. The key to this fight was that Michael Bisping was able to adapt throughout the fight, and Jason Miller was not able to.
Through the first round of the bout, Miller was clearly concerned about Bisping's solid 1 - 2, which he uses far more often than most fighters, and so Miller began throwing the dipping jab and ducking each time Bisping stepped in with his own jab. This worked a treat in the first round, as Miller caught Bisping off guard and was able to land a couple of good jabs on the feet.
The first frame show's Mayhem landing a solid jab as Bisping steps in. You will notice that Mayhem is not even looking where he is punching, but rather at the floor with a completely bent over posture. The second frame shows Miller, just seconds later, performing the same technique on offense (his hand has dropped from the face where it was aimed, he is not simply performing a body jab).
By the end of the first round, however, Bisping was beginning to adapt. Bisping showed an educated lead by not simply using it as a punch but by beginning to throw it out over Miller's shoulder as Miller ducked, and leaning on it to set up right hands. Here are some stills from the final seconds of the first round. Bisping was also able to stuff takedowns with great ease from this position.
Notice how Bisping is cupping over the back of Miller's neck when Miller slips the jab which Bisping is now throwing out only to get a reaction. From this position Miller can not see what Bisping is throwing (because he is looking down), and Bisping can begin to open up with his right hand. Bisping was able to utilize his control of Miller's posture to land uppercuts as he held Miller's head down, and overhands as he allowed Miller to stand up straight with little thought for defense.
As the fight went on Bisping was able to catch Miller in this doubled over position more and more often - most of the time as they simultaneously jabbed - creating a laced arm situation as in the top left still and top right still below.
The truth of good boxing is that it's not all about head movement and footwork - there is a great deal to be said for stiff arming, snapping the head down and so called dirty boxing. The upright style of boxing (historically a British style, though in this global age the idea of national styles is somewhat dated) has historically utilized these techniques to deal with the head movement and infighting of (again, traditionally) American styles.
A great example of a boxer who utilized this lace is Lennox Lewis. Many of Lewis' opponents were overly concerned with ducking his long jab, and he spent more time than most fighters do in this very specific 'lace' position - landing almost all of his uppercuts from the lace. Lewis was also a master at covering the opponent's face with his palm and pushing them away to set up his right hand while they tried to free themselves. Bisping uses the same technique on Miller in the bottom two stills above.
Below, Lennox Lewis takes ruthless advantage of an opponent's dipping posture by stepping out to his right and swinging through an enormous uppercut as he drags the opponent's head downward into it.
The idea of traditional national styles is extremely outdated, as coaches learn from other coaches around the world, and head movement, footwork and the jab are the basis of almost every style of boxing. There is however a great deal to be said for the techniques of the old schools of boxing which have dropped away as practice becomes streamlined to focus on the basics. Using the lead arm to push, blind and snap the opponent's head down was a necessity during the years when British greats such as Jim Driscoll and Jimmy Wilde were out to prove the dominance of outfighting against a new generation of American infighters such as Frank Klaus. Equally a great many techniques from the traditional American style of infighting have been dropped from regular practice and are only used by a few talented fighters. Michael Bisping's own reluctance to use head movement, and the popularity of exaggerated head movement elsewhere in the sport has lead to him developing a versatile, bullying lead hand hand which few other men in the sport have had to develop.
A final example of Bisping's excellent dirty boxing throughout this fight came as Miller was covering following an uppercut from the lace position. Notice below how Bisping extends his lead hand, keeping Miller against the fence, and holding Miller's left hand in front of his eyes. This prevents Miller from throwing that hand as Bisping steps in that direction and strikes Miller with a powerful right to the temple. The bottom two stills show Lennox Lewis stiff arming Britain's favourite heavyweight, Frank Bruno, against the ropes - a tactic that he was repeatedly warned for but used to finish fighters nonetheless. While Lewis is not covering Bruno's hand as Bisping does to Miller, Lewis dips his head to the right so that the blinded Bruno will almost definitely miss him. In the bottom right still you can see Lewis land a huge, fight finishing uppercut, while Bruno misses a feeble left hand which he can get no power behind because his feet are under him as his body is pushed against the ropes.
There is no denying that Jason Miller had massively misplaced confidence in his stand up coming into his meeting with Michael Bisping. It is also true that Miller faded badly in the second round. But it is certainly also true that being pushed and pulled around, while being hit with unseen blows to the head and body, will tire anyone out. Michael Bisping will likely never be as spectacular to watch as Anderson Silva, or as explosive as Vitor Belfort, but I would rate him as the second best technical striker in the middleweight division. If Bisping continues to be matched against elite talent and not men who are clearly supposed to pad his record such as Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jorge Rivera and Chris Leben, we will continue to see nothing but improvements in Bisping's game, win or lose.
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