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The Breakdown: Henderson vs Bisping

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Michael Bisping made no bones about the fact that he wanted Dan Henderson to defeat Rich Franklin when the two fought to determine who would coach opposite Bisping during the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter. He has openly questioned Hendo’s age and doesn’t shy away from the fact that he wants to be the first man to ever knock out the all-time great.

Those beliefs are great. But that is the sort of bulletin board material that a fighter might want to keep to himself in the days and weeks leading up to the fight. Hendo has enough motivation as it is, since Bisping clearly got under his skin during the taping of TUF. Toss in the extra motivation of a trash-talking opponent and he becomes borderline scary.
By Michael DiSanto

Despite being Just a few short weeks from his 39th birthday, former two-division PRIDE champion Dan Henderson remains one of the fiercest competitors in the game, as evidenced by his hard-fought, split decision win over former 185-lb champion Rich Franklin back in January. But even he has to know that he can’t continue to fight at the elite level forever.

Nobody knows when Hendo will finally succumb to Father Time. His effort against Franklin suggests that he is no less spry today than he was when he scored a dramatic knockout win over Wanderlei Silva in their 2007 rematch to become the first man to ever simultaneously hold titles in two PRIDE weight divisions. No matter, Father Time is going to rear his ugly head in Hendo’s corner sooner rather than later.

When it happens, it will be an overnight phenomenon, not a gradual slide. So, the fighter who happens to be standing opposite him on that fateful night should be able to score a career-defining win.

Michael Bisping hopes that July 11th is that fateful night. In fact, his pre-fight comments suggest that he is counting on it.

The Brit made no bones about the fact that he wanted Hendo to defeat Franklin when the two fought to determine who would coach opposite Bisping during the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter. He has openly questioned Hendo’s age and doesn’t shy away from the fact that he wants to be the first man to ever knock out the all-time great.

Those beliefs are great. But that is the sort of bulletin board material that a fighter might want to keep to himself in the days and weeks leading up to the fight. Hendo has enough motivation as it is, since Bisping clearly got under his skin during the taping of TUF. Toss in the extra motivation of a trash-talking opponent and he becomes borderline scary.

If Bisping wants to make good on his promise to defeat Hendo, then he absolutely must forget about the knockout through the first half of the fight, dart in and out with ever-changing combinations and make sure that he stays busy enough to win one at least one of the two opening rounds.

Let’s explore those one at a time.

Despite Bisping’s thirst for a knockout victory, he needs to keep in mind that Hendo has gone toe-to-toe with some of the most savage strikers that the 205-lb division has ever seen, and his chin has never failed him. Wanderlei Silva couldn’t scratch his beard. Ditto for Vitor Belfort. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson landed big leather, but he wasn’t able to hurt the iron-jawed wrestler, nor could Gilbert Yvel.

So, for Bisping to think that he can just walk into the Octagon, put his hands on Hendo and expect a knockout is pure hubris. “The Count” is smarter than that. He knows that such a game plan will lead to a quick trip to the canvas for him, not his opponent. He isn’t about to stand still and slug it out with Hendo. Instead, he is going to employ the same stick-and-move game plan that he used successfully against Chris Leben, who, while dangerous on the feet, is not in Hendo’s league in the offensive firepower department.

Of course, a knockout win by Bisping is very possible. Indeed, it might even be plausible if he follows the perfect game plan. Hendo is known as a guy who has a limited gas tank. He looked absolutely exhausted against Franklin in the third round of their war. Had the former champion pressed the action, he might have scored a stoppage from an accumulation of shots. If Bisping wants a knockout, he should focus on wearing down Hendo through the first two rounds and then turn up the heat in the final round.

During his attack, Bisping must continue circling, which accomplishes two things. First, a moving target is much more difficult to lock up and take down Greco-style than a stationary target. Second, it will create the optimal throwing lane for both his straight punches and kicks to the body.

He also knows that Hendo has ridiculous punching power in both hands—those doubting the savagery of his left hook should watch the tape of his win over Wanderlei Silva. He must, therefore, remain cautious during his attacks. Hendo will be looking to counter any combinations (particularly kicks to the body and lead lefts) with looping rights. But if Bisping is able to land two- and three-piece combinations that are constantly changing before circling out, the Brit can avoid a slugfest and frustrate his highly decorated opponent in the process.

Nevertheless, the last thing Bisping wants is to enter the third round down 2-0. If that happens, an exhausted Hendo can still take the fight to the ground and grind out a victory. It is extremely important, therefore, that Bisping win one of the first two rounds. He should feel good about his ability to win the third round, due to better conditioning and younger legs, so if he can steal either of the first two rounds on the cards, then this is a very winnable fight for him.

Bisping may think that this is a winnable fight. Hendo knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can conquer his younger foe. In order to do that, Hendo must remember his wrestling roots, throw the right hand early and often and forget about kicks to the body or head.

Hendo’s huge advantage in this fight is his ability to dictate where the fight unfolds, something his opponent cannot do without running circles around the ring. The Temecula, California resident knows that he can take down Bisping with Greco throws virtually any time he wants. Those are the benefits of a lifetime spent wrestling at the sport’s highest amateur levels.

In fact, Hendo enjoys that same advantage over just about anyone he faces. Takedowns are what won him the closely contested battle with Franklin. Takedowns, or the threat of takedowns, will lead to a victory over Bisping.

Why? Simply put, Bisping doesn’t have the proper wrestling roots or enough of a submission game to work his way back to the feet at will once the action hits the ground. Thus, Hendo will be able to grind him down with ground and pound while winning points on the judges’ cards any time the action goes from vertical to horizontal.

While on the ground, Hendo should look for submission attempts. The former Olympic wrestler has an extremely underrated submission arsenal. He isn’t likely to roll into an arm bar any time soon, but he has a wide variety of chokes in his game. Bisping is going to fight to get up at any cost once the fight hits the ground. If that means exposing his neck in the interim, he won’t hesitate because Hendo isn’t known as a guy who will risk losing control of the position in order to catch a submission. Hendo can fool everyone, including his opponent, if he takes every opportunity presented to him to sink a choke.

While on the feet, Hendo must be much more active with his hands than he was with Franklin. Hendo has a bad habit of loading up with his always-coiled right hand and throwing little else. He should disguise it with jabs, lead left hooks and leg kicks--anything to make Bisping momentarily forget about his deadliest weapon.

With that said, he must mix in his right hand, always thrown with bad intentions, into his combinations. Clean up a leg kick with a booming overhand right. Fire a right hand uppercut on the heels of a left hook. Throw the traditional one-two from time to time. Throw the right hand early and often, but throw it as part of combinations. Otherwise, Bisping’s odds of slipping the punch dramatically increase.

Hendo should also be looking to counter Bisping’s kicks with right hands, and rather than counter over the top with looping bombs, he should try to straighten out his punches from time to time (not all the time) in order to increase the odds that they will find pay dirt.

Shots thrown on an over-the-top arc are more difficult to land because an opponent can move forward, backward, left or right to escape damage. Shots down the middle from the proper distance force an opponent to move left or right, since they will still find home if an opponent steps in or steps back without moving his head to one side. If Hendo counters with shots down the middle, in addition to throwing his nuclear overhand right, his odds of winning by knockout begin to skyrocket.

Last but not least, Hendo needs to give up on throwing kicks to the head or body. His aging frame isn’t the most flexible of frames. Also, his balance isn’t perfect when he fires kicks above the waist. As a result, he finds himself on his backside after many of his body and head kick attempts. Seeing that he has never really been able to exact much damage with either during his 12-year fighting career, he should just leave that technique in the gym.

Assuming both men show up fully prepared and follow solid game plans, who is going to win? History suggests that Hendo should prevail. Bisping has struggled against the two dominant wrestlers that he has faced so far in his UFC career—Matt Hamill and Rashad Evans. Granted both of them used their fistic prowess to give him fits, but it was the threat of the takedown in those bouts that made both Hamill and Evans so effective. Hendo may not be as dangerous on the feet as Evans, but he is a far better striker than Hamill and a better wrestler than both of those men.

Then again, if Father Time appears in Hendo’s dressing room prior to the fight, then Bisping might just get that knockout win that he so desperately wants.


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