Heel and hero square off in middleweight action on the main card of this Saturday's UFC 152 event in Toronto, as caustic-lipped Brit Michael Bisping meets decorated Marine Brian Stann. Light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones defends against Brazilian knockout artist Vitor Belfort at the heart of the pay-per-view and the fight league's inaugural flyweight champion will be crowned in the Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson bout. Rounding out the featured lineup is a 205-pound tilt pitting Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett and a featherweight dogfight between Charles Oliveira and Cub Swanson.
Michael Bisping (22-4) entered Season 3 of TUF with an undefeated 10-fight history and having already secured the Cage Rage and Cage Warriors light-heavyweight crowns. Though an injury prevented his anticipated confrontation with Matt Hamill in the finals, Bisping ran through the competition by finishing all 3 opponents and won the show convincingly. After working his way up the ladder in the Octagon, "The Count" established his elite status and takedown defense with a pair of competitive split decisions against reputable wrestlers in Hamill (contentious win) and future champion Rashad Evans (admirable loss).
His first taste of defeat resulted in a drop to the middleweight division where his opening 3-fight stretch went well (2 TKOs and a decision over Chris Leben), but Bisping faltered in the following trio with 2 losses (Dan Henderson by Hiroshima-like KO, Wanderlei Silva by unanimous decision) and a strike stoppage over Denis Kang. In his most recent sequence, Bisping chalked up 4 in a row but fell short against middleweight's #2 man in Chael Sonnen, once again mounting an impressive performance in defeat.
More UFC 152 Main Card Dissections
Brian Stann, a Jackson/Winklejohn product, is widely respected for his documented valor in combat, blue-collar work ethic and ongoing sportsmanship. Stann's MMA premiere unfolded with 6 consecutive wins, all of which were 1st-round TKOs, and capturing the WEC light-heavyweight championship. Back to back losses followed, as Stann would relinquish the strap in a TKO loss to Steve Cantwell and tap to a Krzysztof Soszynski kimura in his Octagon debut.
The Pennsylvania native got back in the saddle with a pair of decision wins (Cantwell, Rodney Wallace) before finding himself entombed by the devouring wrestling acumen of Phil Davis (decision loss). Squeezing himself into middleweight proportions proved wise: Stann demonstrated grappling improvement with a triangle choke on Mike Massenzio and then blasted out heralded strikers Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago by TKO. Next, Sonnen would also stifle Stann with gorilla-esque takedowns but seal the deal with a 2nd-round arm triangle; Stann rebounded with another mammoth TKO over Alessio Sakara in his last.
Continued in the full entry.
Both Bisping and Stann are like-sized, amongst the most feared strikers at 185-pounds and share a top-10 slot in the Consensus MMA World Rankings (Bisping at #6; Stann at #10), but the similarities end there. Despite being billed as a kickboxer, Bisping is one of the most technical and artful boxers in the game whereas Stann is more of a straightforward, jaw-shattering slugger.
Excluding his rookie mistake in circling directly into Henderson's power hand, Bisping's overall motion -- head movement, footwork and constant use of angles -- has been phenomenal. That characteristic along with his airtight punching medleys best define him, though his extraordinary takedown defense deserves mention as well. Gritty melees with elite wrestlers in Hamill, Evans and Sonnen proved that Bisping's takedown defense is just about as good as it gets, much of which is attributed to his dedication to maintain such strong balance and composure at all times.
Bisping catches a lot of flak for his so-called "pillow hands" or lack of punching power, but it's hard for me to knock a guy who's pounded out 15 of 22 wins by strikes. He's an extremely judicious marksman who never over-commits or takes unnecessary risks and knows just when to pour it on. Without that calculating perception, he would not be able to sprawl, dig underhooks and shuck off takedowns or skate away from danger so effectively -- and that's simply integral to his game.
Grappling-wise, Bisping has shown an under-rated grasp of submission and position knowledge, which generally occurs defensively during scrambles or when nullifying submission attempts from the top. His offensive wrestling is also surprisingly legit though he rarely implements it -- which is a change he should consider against Stann, who's an animal on the feet but has struggled in grappling encounters. In fact, barring his TKO loss to Cantwell, grappling-centric opposition is responsible for Stann's 3 remaining defeats.
UFC 152 Preliminary Card Previews
"All American" could only muster part-time training while still serving in the military until recently, which is really a testament to his natural fighting instincts and athleticism. He's full-time now but it's nearly impossible to fast-track your submission wrestling prowess, as there is no substitute for years of experience on the mat. Stann is listed as a blue belt in BJJ and, while tapping out a savvy grappler like Massenzio would indicate a higher level, the ground has been a troublesome spot.
Of course, few can replicate the overbearing wrestling of Davis and Sonnen, yet the exception is Soszynski's definitive dismantling that saw "The Polish Experiement" manhandle Stann by rag-dolling him with takedowns, easily passing to full mount and eventually locking up his signature kimura. I'm not suggesting that Bisping should launch takedowns freely, but such an attack could be unexpected during heated exchanges. Stann's smoldering aggression and power also compensate wonderfully for his fairly average striking technique on the feet, offering even more appeal in exploiting his grappling defense.
Unlike the vast realm of complex Jiu-Jitsu fundamentals, MMA has taught us that sizzling knockout power, especially when transmitted directly to the chin, can overcome any and all advantages in experience and technique. As much as we love to drool over the elaborate mechanics of combat, it is, after all, a fist fight, and punching someone unconscious works too. Stann does that well.
That's not to say he's behind the curve in the technical striking department -- Stann has a good command of the basics. In open space, his timing, footwork, circling, pivoting in the pocket and punching form are all sound; as are his clinch mechanics, particularly his dirty boxing with the single collar tie or spearing knees with the double neck tie. Stann's cardinal asset is just being a fearless, hard-nosed, tough-as-nails slugger who can decapitate you with his fist at any time.
He's become noticeably adept with his left hook, especially now that he's anticipating his opponent's advance, cutting a hard pivot and cracking away at their exposed flank. His right hand is an instrument of pain in all forms, as his cross, overhand, hook and uppercut are ridiculously powerful and relentlessly plunged through any visible or potential gaps. He's a downright animal in the clinch, where his considerable strength comes into play to off-balance his foe; he's brutal with head control and typically presses down on or manipulates the head in some uncomfortable way to set up his short-range haymakers.
The distinct edge in experience and diversity makes Bisping the rightful favorite here, which explains his moderate push on the betting lines in the -170 to -185 range. I think Bisping's fluidity and finesse are enough to give him a close nod in a straight striking match but his distinct wrestling and submission advantage leaves this pretty clear cut. Obviously, with the ungodly punching power of Stann, Bisping could take a nap. However, that's precisely why his tactical motion and polished striking are so important, as well as his intelligence to avoid a brawl.
Hell, Stann out-brawled Leben and walloped him in a slug-fest, which is really saying something, so I expect Bisping to eschew prolonged entanglements in the clinch or anywhere near the cage corners. In fact, this should unfold a lot like Leben vs. Bisping, with the latter squeezing off quick and crisp bursts of tight punches before weaving his way back to the safety of open space. Bisping also has the fall-back option of rifling for takedowns, even if just to keep Stann guessing and hesitant or to augment the score cards.
My Prediction: Michael Bisping by decision.