Tonight at UFC 186 Michael Bisping will face a career-defining test in his fight against CB Dollaway. Having been a mainstay in the upper echelons of the UFC’s middleweight division for years now, 36 year old Bisping will have to prove that he still has what it takes to compete at the highest level of the game.
Both guys are coming off of forgivable losses to two incredible fighters. Bisping was submitted by Luke Rockhold back in November, and Dollaway suffer a painful looking body-kick KO courtesy of Lyoto Machida just one minute into their fight last December. Obviously there’s no shame in losing to fighters of that calibre, however it goes without saying that both men will be looking to put their respective defeats behind them and come home with the victory in their first fight of 2015.
For Bisping, his game plan isn’t likely to differ much from that which has brought him so much success in the past – stay on the outside, land combinations and avoid the takedown. Bisping has built a career on keeping things simple, but this may not prove so easy against a newly improved Dollaway who has showed developments in the application of his natural punching power. This was especially evident in his 39 second KO of Cezar Ferreira in March last year, which quickly silenced the jeers and chants of a particularly hostile Brazilian crowd. What makes this contest interesting is that each fighter’s most recent improvements have come in what the other specialises in. Bisping’s improvements in the wrestling department have been well documented over his career, his most impressive outing in that regard being the Chael Sonnen fight in January 2012 which left many (including Chael himself) believing that his wrestling defence combined with his striking was enough to win him the fight. However this was over three years ago, and since then we have seen him be out-grappled by the likes of Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold. On the other hand Dollaway’s game still appears to be developing and improving, adding striking proficiency to his already excellent wrestling game.
Dollaway’s skill set isn’t exactly something that Bisping hasn’t seen before, but in this fight the danger doesn’t lie in the unknown. It lies in the possibility of an ever-improving younger fighter with the motivation to take the scalp of a high level UFC veteran. While this may be true, Bisping is a guy that hasn’t showed the kinds of inadequacies that we usually see from an ageing fighter. He has always been known as a freak athlete and I’d renowned for his diligence when it comes to cardio, apparently possessing a resting heart rate of just 34 beats per minute – which rivals that of ultramarathon runners, professional cyclists and other endurance athletes. This massively compliments his style of wearing down fighters and dragging them into deep water. As long as Michael can maintain his excellent cardio and takedown defence, he will always be a threat in the UFC’s middleweight division. However speed and endurance are usually the first things to fade with age, which is why power-based fighters (e.g. Dan Henderson) are able to achieve success later in their careers. Still, you have to face Father Time sooner or later – and Father Time is undefeated in MMA.
This is an incredibly hard one to call. I personally think that Bisping’s absolute best is behind him, but I also believe that he is still capable of winning this fight.
My reluctant prediction: Bisping via Split Decision