UFC 217 preview: Learning from the losses of UFC champion Michael Bisping (Part 1)

This weekend, UFC Middleweight champion Michael Bisping looks to make his second title defence when he takes on some guy named Georges St. Pierre. Maybe you’ve heard of him (or maybe not). With UFC 217 and Bisping vs. GSP on the horizon, we are bringing back this 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. And since the champ has a decent number of losses, this one will be a 2 parter.

#1 – Rashad Evans (10-0-1) def. Michael Bisping (14-0), SD (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Nov. 17, 2007 – UFC 78: Validation

THE OPPONENT: Like Bisping, Rashad Evans was an up and coming TUF champion at this time. He was undefeated here, coming in off a draw with Tito Ortiz, and en route to winning the UFC Light Heavyweight title. He would follow this up with his huge KO win over Chuck Liddell, then winning the belt from Forrest Griffin. Evans has had a fall off in recent years, but he was on track to be the best 205 pounder in the world here.

WHAT HAPPENED: Considering this was Bisping’s last fight at 205 pounds, the tempting narrative is to say he was simply outsized in this fight. But that’s not entirely accurate, as Evans has never been a large Light Heavyweight himself. The real story is Bisping lost here because Evans was flat out better. He had better takedowns, better control on the ground, and faster hands in the striking. The Count didn’t get blown out of the water here, but he was consistently outclassed until the point where Evans gassed. And to be fair, this is how Bisping should have earned a loss against Matt Hamill as well – only terrible judging saved him there.

LESSON: Simply the need to improve. Bisping had been a wild brawler type up until this point, and against a strong technical fighter, that wasn’t going to cut it.

DID HE LEARN?: Yes. He dropped to 185, which forced him to train harder and be in better shape. He also tightened up his technique, looking more crisp in execution and significantly improved in his next 3 fights.

RELEVANCE TODAY: None. This is a 28 year old Bisping, far removed from where he is today.

#2 – Dan Henderson (24-7) def. Michael Bisping (17-1), KO (R2, 3:20)
July 11, 2009 – UFC 100

THE OPPONENT: The former Pride two division champion is an all time legend who was still very, very dangerous at this time. He came in off a win over Rich Franklin, and had been coaching TUF against Bisping. He would follow this KO up by heading to Strikeforce, where he would win Light Heavyweight gold, KO Fedor, and go 3-1.

WHAT HAPPENED: Bisping may have made strides since the Evans fight, but here we learned that he hadn’t made enough. His loss here was due to poor technique, plain and simple. Specifically, he kept dropping his hands and circling into Henderson’s power hand. And Hendo made him pay, putting his lights out in one of the most vicious KO’s in UFC history, still.

LESSON: Tighten up the striking defense. Keep the hand up, circle away, improve the defense.

DID HE LEARN?: We see a bit of improvement in the circling in his next fight, but he again gets dropped by Dennis Kang there when Bisping circles into Kang’s power hand. Which brings us to the next fight on our list…

RELEVANCE TODAY: On one hand, way too high. In the 8 years since this loss, Bisping has made improvements here, but he’s never really closed this gap, as Hendo himself showed last year. On the other hand, while some will still exploit this hole in Bisping’s game, I’m not sure GSP is the one to do it.

#3 – Wanderlei Silva (16-2) def. Michael Bisping (18-2), UD (29-28 x 3)
Feb. 10, 2010 – UFC 110: Nogueira vs. Velasquez

THE OPPONENT: Another legend and former Pride champion here. There’s no denying his greatness, but Silva at this time was on a pretty shoddy 1-5 run. He would follow this up with a loss to Chris Leben of all people. Bisping is one of his only 4 wins since the demise of Pride, and the only one he has beaten by decision.

WHAT HAPPENED: Striking technique deficiencies once again. After the Hendo loss, and now back in against a heavy hitter, he’s clearly gunshy. He doesn’t fully commit to his punches, choosing to stay outside and lean in when he punches. As a result, he never hurts Silva, and Wanderlei doesn’t fear walking him down. We also again see Bisping walking into the power hand and keeping his guard too low.

LESSON: The same – fix your technique. And if you’re not willing to get in there and throw a hard punch, you’re not going to find success.

DID HE LEARN?: To a degree, yes. This was followed by a 4 fight win steak where Bisping looked very good. He moved his style to play off his strong cardio and emphasize volume punching, piling on the shots to overwhelm opponents like Jorge Rivera and Mayhem Miller.

RELEVANCE TODAY: Minimal. Like I said in the Hendo fight, there remain some gaps in his game in these areas. Here Wanderlei exploited those not with a single power shot, but with an accumulation, which seems like a better path for GSP. But that’s harder to do now that the champ has made some adjustments – no one since has outstruck Bisping over the course of an entire fight.

FINAL VERDICT (SO FAR)

The theme of these first three losses is clear – fix your striking. And Bisping did. Somewhat. It brought him very close to a title shot, but in part 2, that other part of his game gets exposed instead – we’ll have that later this week.

Join us here at Bloody Elbow Saturday night for live fight night coverage of Michael Bisping vs. Georges St. Pierre at UFC 217.

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