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UFC 199: Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping Toe to Toe Preview - Complete Breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Rockhold versus Bisping for UFC 199, and everything you don't know about manufactured vendettas.

Artwork by Phil MacKenzie

Rockhold and Bisping inexplicably throw down for the rematch nobody asked for this June 4, 2016 at the The Forum
in Inglewood, California.

Single sentence summary:

Phil: A chance to pay respects to one of MMA's most doughty gatekeepers finally getting his shot

David: A contender with the highest blood pressure faces a champion itching to pour it out of him.


Record: Luke Rockhold 15-2 Michael Bisping 28-7

Odds: Luke Rockhold -660 Michael Bisping +540

History lesson / introduction to the fighters

Phil: Welcome to the top of the heap, Luke Rockhold. The path he took to the belt wasn't as direct as he might have liked, being diverted as it was by a Vitor wheel kick, although arguably that experience gave him the impetus to fix his issues with being a slow starter. Now, here he is.

In general it feels like Rockhold slid in under the radar,both due to the Vitor KO and due to the (inaccurate) assumption that the Strikeforce middleweights were weaker than their UFC counterparts. This would likely be a massively unpopular assertion, but I still think that if you subbed in Tim Kennedy for Chael Sonnen, then he would have beaten Anderson Silva.

David: At this stage of the game, I'd bet on some welterweights to beat Anderson. Honestly I don't even think Rockhold was the hipster contender of choice or anything. Fans had a sense of who he was, and hardcore fans respected his skillset as elite. The problem was, and continues to be his health. Out of sight, out of mind. With so much inactivity between fights, there was just no legit gauge to measure his worth.

Phil: Michael Bisping got knocked out by Dan Henderson. That was 99 numbered UFCs and 226 total events ago. Rather than being defined by what was one of the most famous KOs in the sport, Bisping has slowly worked to become something of a fan favourite. Part of this is that he's lost a bunch of fights since then, and it starts to become pointless and boring to harp on about how each one happened. Rockhold has promised to beat Bisping "more impressively" than he's ever been beaten before. The logical response to this is: Oh yeah? Well, Michael Bisping has lost in some pretty fucking impressive ways, you know. It hasn't humbled him yet.

David: To be fair to Bisping, it's been something like 3 years since he's been brutally knocked unconscious and that was to Vitor Belfort, who was probably raiding Steve Rogers' personal stash at the time. Bisping doesn't get enough credit for his durability. It's not a strength, granted, but as Joe Rogan would eloquently say: Michael Bisping is a DOG (!).

What are the stakes?

Phil: Similar to Faber-Cruz, this is a chance for a well-known face to give some shine to a championship fighter who's already beaten him before. The difference is that this is Bisping's first and likely only title shot, so there's much more sentimentality to the whole thing.

David: For some reason, this whole Bisping title shot keeps eluding me. I wouldn't be disappointed if Rockhold lost. This might sound silly, but I'm happy for Bisping. He came back from a detached retina. It's not quite Phil Kessel playing in the Stanley Cup Finals after beating testicular cancer and Toronto's halfwit media, but it's a good story.

Where do they want it?

Phil: Rockhold mostly wants this fight on the outside. Whether this is a good thing for him or not is up for debate, but it likely doesn't matter. Rockhold has a similar issue to Jon Jones, in that the layers of his game don't tie together to actively lead to his strongest areas. He has a powerful outside kicking game, a counter right hook and left straight to catch people coming past that layer, a wonderful clinch, and is a supernaturally gifted grappler, to the extent that when Machida and Weidman got caught underneath him, they were absolutely destroyed.

This all sounds lovely, until you realize that Rockhold, like Jones, has no actual way of accessing his strongest weapons unless his opponent does it for him by pushing through the outer layers. Thus, a Bisping fight will likely be a kickboxing match. In this case, though, Rockhold is bigger, stronger, faster, and hits harder, and keeps a similar pace.

David: For some reason I'm reading your description in Chris Klein voice when he's talking about M Bison: "this guy walks through the raindrops".  I feel like Rockhold could actually be more effective on the feet if there was a bit more pop and less poetry. He starts slow at times, and even in fights where he's outmatched his opponent, there's not much urgency. On the ground, he's as fluid a grappler as there is. MMA or otherwise. Perhaps there's some highly obscure, misleading PubMed abstract Rogan found that talks about how a surfer's exercise routine predicts grappling acumen, but to dummy Machida and Weidman like that is some next level top control.

Phil: Bisping is an outfighter, who comes in behind a crisp and educated jab, which he gradually builds on over time with a right hand and leg and body kicks. If he can really wear down an opponent, he can move into his preferred finishing techniques of knees from the double collar, or strikes from mount. I think we're unlikely to see that here. The best singular ability Bisping has, apart from his pace, is his ability to use combinations of strikes to manipulate where his opponent puts their head or body. He generally stays over his feet and can wade into critical distance without feeling the need to clinch up or panic and throw big strikes. This is what allowed him to knock down Anderson Silva.

Unfortunately, Bisping's weaknesses are as well-known as his strengths: he's hittable on the retreat and on the retraction, and doesn't pack much power. More athletic and more powerful fighters have just been able to blow through his slowly assembled game.

David: Bisping is still the most awkward pressure fighter you'll ever see. He's 100% committed to backing his opponent up, but he doesn't have the power or sheer speed to break them. He's an honest to goodness attrition fighter, which is why I'm glad to see him in a five round fight. I think he would have beaten Chael Sonnen if that bout had gone five rounds. Then his title fight would have happened sooner. Anyway. Bisping isn't a good range fighter, but he establishes range effectively when he's close enough to burrow his way into clinch fighting, or setup a takedown. His grappling is very good. It would be ill advised move to take it there against Rockhold, but he's in a pick your poison dilemma that won't hurt him if he does (IMO).

Insight from past fights?

Phil: One of Rockhold's weaknesses is still his footwork, and Bisping actively managed to expose that in their last fight. Primarily, Rockhold takes overly large, diagonal steps backwards when he's on the defensive, which leaves his front leg exposed. The right hook is still a danger here (as when Rockhold accidentally cuffed Machida over his own leg), but if avoided it's possible to push Rockhold back and attack the leg with kicks. Bisping did that once. If he can do it another couple of times he might be able to conceivably slow Rockhold's footwork and kicking games down.

David: That and the pockets of inertia. It's not that Rockhold suddenly stops throwing. It's that his offense kind of stutters. Bisping is the kind of fighter who can take advantage of these moments given his style. Like you said, we saw glimpses of this in their last fight. Bisping has stout enough takedown defense that this could be an interesting side plot as the fight develops into the later rounds.


Phil: The Rockhold MCL tear is the obvious one, but I honestly think it's how Rockhold has been talking about how impressively he's going to beat Bisping. He wants to one-up a question mark kick into a one-armed guillotine? Come on, man.

Athletically, Rockhold absolutely outclasses Bisping, but if there's one way he loses this fight it's by not taking the Brit seriously.

David: Yeah, but how seriously does he need to take Bisping in order for that to matter? Bisping is one of the least dangerous contenders given his lack of power and general style. But I feel like we're in another moment of flux with 185. And yea, the MCL stuff. As great as Rockhold looked against Weidman, I still get the sense that these injuries will play a bigger role on Luke's career sooner than they should.


Phil: Even if Rockhold tries to win this fight doing dumb shit, he's still the favourite. I hope Bisping has a good showing. Luke Rockhold by TKO, round 2.

David: *Grabs glass* To dumb shit! Michael Bisping by Decision.

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