This weekend, UFC Middleweight champion Michael Bisping looks to make his second title defense when he takes on Georges St. Pierre. In this 2 part series, we are bringing back our look into the champ’s career losses. Here, we’ll break down what caused the loss, what he learned from it, and how it might relate to Saturday’s fight. All fights are available on Fight Pass, so follow along and share your thoughts. Part 1 available here.
THE OPPONENT: Chael Sonnen was at the absolute peak of his Chael Sonnen-ness here. This was about a year and a half removed from the first Anderson Silva fight, and the win here would springboard him to the Silva rematch and his TUF coaching gig opposite Jon Jones. Sonnen is at his height in terms of both popularity and skills here - he is just 2-4 since this win.
WHAT HAPPENED: Sonnen outwrestled Bisping, which is not a surprise. The surprise though is that Bisping fared shockingly well here. He avoided the takedowns, and Sonnen’s control was limited to mainly clinch-work against the cage. And in the eyes of many observers, Bisping won this fight by stopping the ground game.
LESSON: Again, many felt Bisping won, and he showed good takedown defense, so it’s hard to say. Probably the most important here is the classic “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.”
DID HE LEARN?: He’s definitely more focused solely on striking in the aftermath of this fight, for good and for bad.
RELEVANCE TODAY: Decent. GSP could aim for this strategy, though even if he recreated it perfectly, it’s far from a sure thing win.
THE OPPONENT: The Phenom is a legend of MMA who was at this time on a 3-2 run in the UFC. This was the first of a 3 fight series where he KO’d Bisping, Rockhold, and Hendo in succession - the best stretch of wins in his entire career. Bisping would be quick to point out the role of TRT in this stretch - make of that what you will.
WHAT HAPPENED: Bisping’s old striking troubles reared their ugly head once again. Hand low, not challenging Belfort enough... if you read part 1, you know the drill. Partly of concern here is that Belfort throws that headkick twice before he lands it. He saw the opening, he revealed that he saw the opening, but Bisping still didn’t make the adjustment. It’s reminiscent of the Hendo KO in that way.
LESSON: Seriously, tighten up the striking defense.
DID HE LEARN?: At this point, we’re 28 fights into Bisping’s career and he has the same gap in his game. It seems unlikely it’s ever going to get totally closed.
RELEVANCE TODAY: As I said with the Henderson KO, this remains an area of weakness, but not one likely to be used by GSP. Perhaps the greater worry is Bisping’s inability to adjust and learn mid-fight. Against a master technician like GSP, that is a major cause for concern.
THE OPPONENT: Kennedy is the super tough former Strikeforce title challenger - a very good wrestler, with strong striking as well. He was 2-0 in the UFC here, and on what seemed to be a clear path to title contention, but he would lose to Yoel Romero a few months later, and is a scant 0-1 since.
WHAT HAPPENED: Bisping has always been heralded for his takedown defense. But here we see the limits of that defense. Kennedy was dogged in his wrestling attack, and took Bisping down repeatedly, controlling him on the mat and dominating the fight. We had seen Bisping knocked out before, and badly, but this is the first time he was ever really beaten soundly from bell to bell. This was a bad run for the Count, and it looked like his career was winding down.
LESSON: That vaunted takedown defense? It was good enough circa UFC 100 - it was not good enough anymore. Bisping could be out-wrestled.
DID HE LEARN?: Hard to say. Most of Bisping’s fights since have come against strikers.
RELEVANCE TODAY: Huge. Of all the fights in his entire career, this is the one that most speaks to a possible GSP win Saturday night. It’s very easy to see St. Pierre fighting the Kennedy fight on Saturday. It’s less a question of if Bisping can stop him, and more a question of if GSP’s age, time off, knees, and weight can allow him to implement it.
THE OPPONENT: Rockhold was the former (final) Strikeforce champion, and was here 2 fights removed from his upset loss to Belfort. Belfort loss aside, Rockhold was looking absolutely amazing at this time - a machine capable of brutal strikes and nasty submissions. One year after this fight, he would win the UFC Middleweight title.
WHAT HAPPENED: This fight looks nothing like the Kennedy fight, but it stands alongside that one as the other time Bisping just got completely schooled. Rockhold dominates on the feet, hurts Bisping badly, knocks him down, and chokes him out. If you hadn’t done so already, this fight made it clear that it was time to stop thinking of Bisping as a title contender. (Oops.)
LESSON: Hard to even say. As Joe Rogan talks about, there are levels, and this was just an opponent at a different level.
DID HE LEARN?: Clearly, yes. Four fights later, Bisping would KO Rockhold in one of the sport’s all time biggest upsets to finally claim his world title.
RELEVANCE TODAY: Some. Rockhold wins this by being more athletic (which might be GSP), more technically well rounded (which might be GSP) and mixing his game up more (which might be GSP). I have a tough time envisioning St. Pierre getting the stoppage, but this is another fight that shows a path to victory.
There’s no question that Michael Bisping can lose his belt Saturday night. He has holes in his game in assorted areas - some of which are prime for St. Pierre to take advantage of. The real question is what to expect of Middleweight 2017 GSP. The path to victory is there - does he have it in him to walk it?
Join us here at Bloody Elbow Saturday night for live fight night coverage of Michael Bisping vs. Georges St. Pierre at UFC 217.