Michael Bisping's ability to take a punch is the talk of the media before every Bisping fight. Today we look at the defensive flaws which leave Bisping's chin so exposed in his bouts.
The chin is a vague term in combat sports - most use it to refer to a fighter's ability to take punishment to the head in general, but other times it is about the durability of the jawline alone. The truth is that while the temple is an excellent target - or vital point (depending on your martial art of choice) - it is surrounded by plain old skull, which is much, much denser and sturdier than the many bones which make up the human hand. The jaw on the other hand is full of nerves and contains moving parts - it is not built for taking punishment and a great many men have been knocked out with punches landing on their jawline or chin.
To this day professional athletes are taught to protect their jaw at all costs - keeping it behind the gloves or the shoulders at all times. One only needs to listen to Bernard Hopkins or James Toney discuss their philosophies on taking punches to understand how much more affecting a blow to the jaw is than a blow to the skull. A bad chin - in the sense of an inability to take punishment - is not a particularly common thing, and the same is true of a remarkably study chin, but there hasn't been a single fighter who developed a reputation for being chinny that couldn't have benefited from some solid lessons in defense.
Michael Bisping has developed something of a reputation for having a weak chin over the last few years and this stems from his being dropped fairly often. While the men who have hurt Bisping have all been good punchers - Dan Henderson, Denis Kang, Jorge Rivera, Wanderlei Silva - most are not excellent technicians and had no business being able to hurt a man who is constantly touted as an elite technical striker at least by the UFC commentary team. In truth Bisping's real strengths are his cardio and his striking variety and pace - not his technical ability. The reason for Bisping's struggling with these opponents is more to do with his defensive shortcomings than any genetic limitations on his ability to take a punch.
Bisping faces Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 7 on January 19.
The hiding of the chin behind the shoulders is an incredibly important aspect of good boxing and it is perhaps the single greatest shortcoming in Michael Bisping's game. Bisping has a brilliantly solid and consistent jab when he is using it at it's best - this has been evidenced by his ability to keep men such as Wanderlei Silva, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Chris Leben on the end of it. Bisping hasn't faced many top tier fighters, but he has faced some of the most durable folks around and he has made them all look incredibly uncomfortable. The problem of Bisping's jab is that it immediately drops back to his waistline - and his shoulders remain low throughout the entire movement.
There is a reason that Bisping gets caught by wild right hand swings and this low lead shoulder and dropping lead hand are a huge part of that. You will rarely see Bisping struggling with an opponents left hook or jab, because his right hand is almost always in position to block or parry. Dropping the lead hand simply doesn't work unless the lead shoulder is high and the chin is low - otherwise the entire head is simply too exposed. Anderson Silva is a fighter who regularly drops his jab to his waist after completing it (in hopes of drawing a counter attack) but he does so with his chin behind his shoulder and with full expectation that he will have to evade a punch.
Later in Bisping's bout against Silva, Wanderlei moved Bisping completely out of position with a right swing as Bisping dropped his jab instead of bringing it back. While this didn't hurt Bisping, he was clearly all over the place in his stance and had Wanderlei swarmed on Bisping with more punches he could have landed some clean, free punches.
The second great sin that Bisping commits which allows right handed punches to sneak through is his constant circling to his left as he jabs - doubtless you will all remember this from his bout with Dan Henderson but it is a recurring issue. Jabbing while circling to the lead side is a dangerous act if engaged in without the correct fundamentals. If one uses a proper "Safety Lead" (a term coined by Edwin Haislet in On Boxing, a classic text which everyone should download and read) the lead shoulder is high, the chin is tucked and the head is lowered slightly to the right to limit the impact of any right punches so that they become glancing blows. A fighter who circles to his left with jabs almost constantly and almost never gets caught with right hands is Georges St. Pierre, simply because he adheres to the high shoulder, low chin and head off line rules.
Against Denis Kang, Bisping came in with his right hand high to eliminate Kang's left hand, then leaped off towards Kang's free hand and ate it as a result. If a fighter circles to the left but stays in range of the opponent's right he shortens the path of his opponent's right hand, and lengthens the path of his own left hand - making the speed advantage of his left hand much smaller and giving away the scientific advantage of that technique. If that seems a little complicated an easier way to think of it is that if the opponent's lead hand is already checked - why not move in that direction as he has no hand free to attack with on that side?
By circling to his left as he dived in with a left punch, Bisping essentially gave Kang a right hand counter, and his high chin and low lead shoulder meant that he ate the full force of the punch.
Here is a great example of how to perform the same technique but shorten the path of one's own left hand and not walk into the opponent's right. As Fedor Emelianenko enters range of Zulu's right hand his head is in front of Zuluzinho's left shoulder - away from the right hand - and his right foot is outside of Zulu's lead leg. As Fedor's lead shoulder is inside of Zulu's right hand - guaranteeing the speed advantage - and his right hand is checking Zulu's left - Zulu is helpless.
Bisping's final great fault is one which we are seeing more and more in mixed martial arts - the belief that jabbing at any time will work. We have already seen that by circling left while jabbing but staying in range of the opponent's right hand the scientific advantage of the jab is lost - and there are plenty of other positions and scenarios in which the jab simply doesn't carry the weight it should. The example of the straight line always being the shortest root and the jab being the quickest weapon are excellent for teaching beginners the importance of the jab, but they should never be taken as gospel by professional fighters.
In recent memory aloneb Cain Velasquez was knocked out by Junior dos Santos as he attempted to counter everything Junior did with jabs, even when it meant jabbing across himself, then Dos Santos was floored in the rematch as he threw weak, backpeddling jabs and expected them to deter Cain from coming after him. The harsh truth is that jabbing from a weakened position is simply offering the opponent a standard range of counter punches, but without the threat of eating a stiff punch on the snout as he tries them.
Over and over again when his opponents close in on him, Bisping will throw his hands out straight in front of him with little power and eat punches over the top as a result. Bisping's high chin worsens the impact of these punches and makes him look very bad in rounds which he is otherwise winning easily. Against Jorge Rivera, every time Jorge ran at Bisping wildly, Bisping would back straight up and throw his lead hand out at the same time. There was no possible way that Bisping could generate power on his punches while skipping backward and he ate several hard right hands the exact same way.
Against Wanderlei Silva Bisping began flailing his hands straight out in front of him when Silva swarmed on him - and it appeared that Bisping was looking to grab a collar tie on Silva - except his shoulders were so low and his chin was so high that he was easily clipped by several of Wanderlei's monstrous windmill blows.
A final useful example is the case of Bisping's bout with Dan Henderson (gif right here), where Bisping checked Henderson's inside low kick (which means that the right hand is coming in any Henderson fight) then for no reason straightened both hands towards Henderson and raised his chin. This is a bad habit which is part of our natural instincts to keep distance between ourselves and our opponents, and it is one which Bisping shares with another great striker who has now become known for his terrible chin - Andre Arlovski.
If Michael Bisping can learn that sometimes it is appropriate to cover up, and that every time the elbows leave the body the striker's overall defensive position is weakened, he can tighten up the holes in his game and should have little trouble with the middleweight top ten. If he learns to use his shoulders for defense well, he can open up his game offensively and counter offensively as the great Anderson Silva did after leaving Chute Boxe and could become a truly great striker.