Any fan in search of a timeless standup war needs to make sure that he or she tunes into UFC 110 on Saturday night (taking place in Sydney, Australia on Sunday) because this co-feature bout has all the ingredients of a slugfest.
Wanderlei Silva fights with unabashed aggression. He doesn’t know how to fight any other way. Actually, that is not true. Silva is a highly skilled mixed martial artist with a black belt in jiu-jitsu from Carlos Gracie, Jr., so his arsenal is about as diverse as anyone in the UFC.
None of that matters, though, once the action gets underway, because he is a berserker by nature, a true apex predator without fear of being attacked and consumed by anyone. He loves nothing more than planting his feet and swinging for the fences with an opponent, without regard for his personal welfare or whether that is the most effective game plan.
Michael Bisping is also a well-rounded mixed martial artist with a diverse submission game in his back pocket. But, like Silva, Bisping is an alpha male to the nth degree, one who values his own worth by his ability able to conquer another man with his fists.
In other words, winning isn’t enough for the Brit. It’s how he wins that matters. He would rather stand and trade strikes with an opponent than go to the ground and look for submissions. In fact, I think that Bisping would probably prefer doing just about anything to engaging in a transition jiu-jitsu match with someone inside the Octagon.
As a result, it isn’t too difficult to predict how Silva versus Bisping will unfold on Saturday night. Silva will take the center of the cage and look to uncork rapid-fire hooks with both fists—rock’em, sock’em robots style. Bisping loves a good slugfest, but he isn’t foolish enough to stand his ground and go to war with a guy like Silva. He will strike with him, make no mistake about it. But he will strike with calculated aggression while circling, always looking for windows of opportunity to safely fire power shots.
The immediately preceding paragraph reads like a summary of Silva’s last fight inside the Octagon—a unanimous decision loss to Rich Franklin at UFC 99 back on June 13 of last year. Franklin and Bisping are virtually mirror images of each other in terms of fighting style. Both have athletic, technically proficient kickboxing skills. Both have enough gas to throw lots of punches, though neither man possesses truly devastating one-punch knockout power. Thus, neither wants to stand and trade if he can avoid it, opting instead to stick and move while looking for the opportunity to score a knockout. Lastly, both know that they can rely on their submission skills, as needed, to survive on the ground, though neither man is proficient enough with takedowns to take the action to the ground whenever he pleases.
Accordingly, I believe that Bisping will attempt to follow precisely the same game plan that Franklin utilized with such beautiful efficiency through the first two rounds of his fight with Silva at UFC 99. The only question is whether he can pull it off with the same technical brilliance or whether Silva will be able to make the fight more closely resemble the third round of his fight with Franklin.
In that round, Silva realized that he had to engage Franklin in a slugfest if he was going to have a chance at scoring a come-from-behind win. He did just that by cutting off Franklin, rather than chasing him around the cage, and forcing him to back into the fence, which opened the door for an all-out assault by the former PRIDE champion. Silva found great success during those exchanges, almost scoring a come-from-behind knockout win. And that is why I believe that Silva will also employ the same game plan at UFC 110 that he used against Franklin, albeit trying to replicate the final round, not the previous two.
In short, I don’t see Bisping replicating Franklin’s recipe for success for one simple reason: the emotion of the moment.
Franklin is one of the more disciplined fighters in the game. He does not allow the crowd or his own emotion to get in the way of executing his game plan. Bisping, by contrast, can be a very emotional fighter, both feeding off the crowd and trying to impress them at the same time. As a result, he will be inclined to engage his opponent if the crowd jeers.
If he is goaded into a firefight with Silva before the ex-champion is severely fatigued, then it will be a painful, humbling experience for the former winner of The Ultimate Fighter, assuming Silva brings all of his power and free-swinging ways down to middleweight, which is no sure thing.
Silva is a lifelong light heavyweight, despite having a frame that is perfectly suited for the UFC middleweight division. What that means is that Silva has fought his entire 13-plus year career carrying a ton of extra (some would suggest unnecessary) muscle. And he hasn’t had to work very hard to cut weight the day before a fight. What that means is Silva has entered just about every fight well rested and with a full gas tank.
His first foray south of the light heavyweight division was at UFC 99 against Franklin, where the pair battled at a catch weight of 195 lbs, Silva looked very different physically from the guy who competed at 205 lbs. He was much smaller, which raises the question of whether he still had the same power and explosiveness as before. Would the punches that badly rocked Franklin in the third round have put him away if they were delivered by a 205-lb Silva, rather than the 195-lb version? We will never know the answer to that question, though Silva knows the answer deep down in his soul.
My guess is that Silva believes that he hasn’t lost a thing by shedding 20-plus pounds. Otherwise, it would make no sense to continue getting lighter after the Franklin loss. Nevertheless, Saturday is uncharted territory for him. He has no idea how his body will react after cutting all the way down to 185 lbs.
Will he have to work so hard in the days leading up to the fight to get down to the middleweight limit that he will have nothing left for Bisping come fight time? I have absolutely no answer for that question.
If Silva and Bisping were competing at light heavy, I’d pick Silva every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Someone like Bisping who is a known free swinger at times should be perfectly tailored for a savage striker like Silva. But this isn’t a light heavy bout; it is a middleweight contest, which is uncharted territory for the Brazilian. Thus, I honestly have no idea what to expect. I guess I would lean toward Bisping simply because he is a known commodity at the weight, though I hesitate to ever count out Silva against someone who is going to plant his feet and swing away in front of him at some point in the night.
• 33 years old
• 5’11, 185 lbs
• 32-10-1, 1 NC overall (24-10-1, 1 NC in the UFC/PRIDE)
• 0-0 at 185 lbs
• 2-fight losing streak
• Only the second multi-fight losing streak of his career
• Both of his UFC wins and 15 of his 22 PRIDE wins have come by KO/TKO
• Current layoff is 252 days (UD loss to Rich Franklin at UFC 99 on June 13, 2009)
• Longest layoff of his UFC/PRIDE career is 308 days (KO3 by Dan Henderson at PRIDE 33 on February 24, 2007, until UD loss to Chuck Liddell at UFC 79 on December 29, 2007)
• Former PRIDE Middleweight Champion (93 kg)
• Former PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix winner
• 30 years old
• 6’0, 185 lbs
• 19-2 overall (8-2 in the UFC)
• 4-1 at 185 lbs
• Won last fight
• 4-1 in his last 5 fights
• 6 of his 8 UFC wins have come by KO/TKO
• Current layoff is 98 days (TKO2 over Denis Kang at UFC 105 on November 14, 2009)
• Career longest layoff is 266 days (UD over Chris Leben at UFC 89 on October 18, 2008, until KO2 by Dan Henderson at UFC 100 on July 11, 2009)
• 0-2 in the UFC against current or former UFC/PRIDE champions