MMA Review: #565: UFC 204: Bisping vs. Henderson II

-This was the first UFC PPV in the UK since UFC 138 in 2011 (although they’d done a handful of free TV shows over here) and as it had a big-time main event, in a first for the UFC the show was starting at the usual time for PPVs, basically 3am in the UK! Pretty crazy to have the crowd have to show up in the middle of the night, but them’s the breaks when the biggest promotion in the world is US-based I guess. Don’t think anyone really minded though when said main event was the long-awaited Bisping/Henderson rematch!

UFC 204: Bisping vs. Henderson

Manchester, England

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Brian Stann as apparently Joe Rogan doesn’t do the international shows any more. Not too fussed to be honest as Stann is awesome anyway.

Featherweight Fight: Mirsad Bektic vs Russell Doane

This opener – hot prospect Bektic’s big return following a year on the shelf with knee surgery – was changed due to injury not once, but twice, as his original opponent Arnold Allen withdrew and then his replacement Jeremy Kennedy also pulled out, leaving Hawaiian Doane – who usually fights at 135lbs – to step in at late notice. To be honest there aren’t many FWs I’d pick over Bektic anyway and so there was no way I could see Doane pulling off the upset at all, even though he’s a decent fighter in his own right.

Fight begins and Doane comes out aggressively, swinging with a right hand that catches Bektic off balance early on. They exchange a few more strikes and it looks like Doane might actually have the slightly quicker hands, but Bektic soon changes it up by planting him with a double leg. Full guard for Doane, but Bektic works the body with some short punches and then works to pass, taking the back off a scramble. Doane gets to his feet, but Bektic suplexes him back down and continues to drag him around when he stands again. Looks like a possible fence grab from Doane is keeping him up in fact. Trip from Bektic finally puts Doane down and he takes some punches before standing again. Bektic stays on him with the rear waistlock though and gets him down again, this time getting both hooks in to control him completely. Doane seems pretty chilled, but Bektic begins to work for the choke and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts he switches to a neck crank and then fully sinks the rear naked for the tapout.

Basically a flawless victory for Bektic as he dealt with the late replacement with apparent ease, feeling him out on the feet before taking him down and dominating him en route to the submission. Post-fight he says the division is a bit lacklustre and he feels he can beat anyone, and you know, I actually agree with the guy – I think it’s time to push this guy right up the ladder as he’s the real deal and I’ll go as far as saying he’ll be the champion by 2018. He’s got incredible skills, aggression and seems to be improving all the time. Cub Swanson or Dennis Bermudez next anyone?

Heavyweight Fight: Stefan Struve vs Daniel Omielanczuk

Another fight changed by injury, this one would’ve seen Struve against Dagestani prospect Ruslan Magomedov, but ‘The Leopard’ pulled out a few weeks before the event before being flagged by USADA for a doping offence, and so Poland’s Omielanczuk, coming off a solid win over Oleksiy Oliynyk in the summer, stepped in looking for his biggest win to date. I was taking Struve because I just felt like Omielanczuk wasn’t really at the elite level, but it was a dodgy pick to say the least as I don’t trust Struve’s chin at all anymore.

Round One begins and the size difference is LUDICROUS, Struve is just a giant. He uses a front kick to the chest early but then gets backed up by an Omielanczuk combo that doesn’t really land cleanly. Worrying to see Stefan backing up with his hands low though! Nice inside leg kick from Omielanczuk. Another one follows as does an overhand left that just about glances. Couple more front kicks from Struve and he follows with a head kick that Omielanczuk manages to deflect. Big left hook from Omielanczuk connects and Struve looks slightly hurt, but he recovers quickly. Couple of HARD body kicks land for Struve but Omielanczuk comes back with a low kick. Another couple of hooks connect for Omielanczuk. He’s having success lunging in with these punches. Big head kick into a combo from Struve but the Polish fighter takes it well. Clinch from Omielanczuk but Struve takes him down with a whizzer. They pop up right away and Omielanczuk drives Struve back into the cage, but a nice trip takedown plants the Pole on his back. Half-guard for Omielanczuk as he manages to avoid being mounted, but it looks like Struve might be setting up an arm triangle choke. Full mount does follow for Struve and he takes the back with both hooks as I’m suddenly remembering how skilled he is on the ground. Omielanczuk manages to roll back to mount, but he’s still in deep shit and winds up giving his back again. Body triangle this time for Struve and he’s working for the choke, but the round ends before he can finish it off. 10-9 Struve, but he definitely got clocked a few times.

Round Two and Omielanczuk closes the distance early on, avoiding a takedown from the whizzer again to force Struve back into the fence. Takedown attempt from Omielanczuk but Struve defends it well and turns him around into the cage before grabbing the plum for a nasty knee. Exactly the same trip takedown as the first round follows and Struve lands in almost an inverted mount before rolling for a D’Arce choke. Omielanczuk’s in big trouble here and he attempts to walk up the fence to alleviate the hold, but it doesn’t work and he has to tap out there.

Beautiful submission finish from Stefan Struve and as I mentioned earlier, I think his ground skills get unfairly ignored sometimes as he’s wildly skilled down there for a big guy even if he doesn’t look to take the fight down often. The good news for Struve is that this was his second win in a row and it puts him almost back to the level of borderline top ten that he was in like 2012 before his medical issues; the bad news is that despite dominating Omielanczuk on the ground, he again let a much shorter opponent (a foot shorter in fact at 6’0”) get inside his reach to land some clean strikes. If he wants to reach the real top of the division that’s an issue he needs to sort ASAP, but he’s still young for a HW (28) and so he has time. Regardless though this was an excellent fight for a HW tilt I thought as they kept a decent pace throughout and both showed some solid skills.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jimi Manuwa vs Ovince St. Preux

Pretty good matchmaking here, as both men were coming off losses – OSP to Jon Jones, Manuwa to Anthony Johnson over a year ago – but due to the thin nature of 205lbs right now they were still very relevant to the title picture. For me it came down to whether OSP could get Manuwa down early in the fight, as on the feet I felt that Manuwa was a much smoother striker despite OSP’s improvements there and natural punching power. British bias made me pick Manuwa but I felt like the favourite would be OSP.

Round One gets underway and a left hook from Manuwa is answered by a body kick from OSP. Inside leg kick into a hard body kick from Manuwa but OSP clinches and muscles him into the fence. Nice knee to the thigh from Manuwa and he adds one to the body as OSP seems content just to hold onto him. OSP answers with a couple of knees of his own before Jimi manages to break off. Big left hand misses for OSP and Manuwa surprisingly goes for a takedown, but OSP stuffs it. Body kick connects for Manuwa before another clinch follows. Surprising to see Manuwa clinching so often with a guy known as a solid wrestler. Pair of knees to the body and one to the head separate for Manuwa and he ducks under for a takedown as OSP charges in, but OSP stuffs it and muscles him into the fence before getting a takedown of his own. OSP takes the back with one hook and stays heavy on Manuwa, softening him up with some short punches. Manuwa escapes to his feet, but a single leg puts him back down. He tries a guillotine from the guard but it doesn’t look tight at all to me and sure enough St. Preux escapes and takes the back off a scramble. One minute to go and OSP gets both hooks in and Manuwa might be in trouble. He shakes off one hook, but takes some clubbing shots to the side of the head. A reversal puts Jimi back on his feet, and they remain clinched and exchange some shots until the round ends. 10-9 St. Preux as once the grappling was initiated he largely dominated.

Round Two and a short left hand connects for OSP followed by a front kick to the body. Pair of leg kicks land for OSP but Manuwa connects on a heavy left hand counter and it seems to have OSP possibly hurt. Body kick follows before OSP shoots, but this time Manuwa sprawls nicely and defends it. OSP gets him against the fence anyway but he can’t get him down and the Brit breaks off. Right hand into a left kick lands hard for Manuwa. Spinning backfist misses for him but a right hand and a leg kick connect. OSP looks badly outgunned standing right now. Another left hand connects for Manuwa. Big right misses for OSP and he looks tired. Hard leg kick from Jimi. Pair of vicious lefts to the body follow as he continues to snipe at OSP, but a right hand counter does connect for the American. Inside leg kick lands hard again for Manuwa and a right into a flying knee have OSP backing way into the fence. Manuwa continues to stalk forward and a left to the body sets up a CRUSHING RIGHT HOOK that has OSP stumbling! He pops back up but Manuwa smells blood and comes in with a VICIOUS LEFT HAND that FOLDS OSP and he’s unconscious before he hits the deck. Jesus Christ that was nasty.

Unbelievable knockout and the best performance of Jimi Manuwa’s UFC career pretty comfortably. First round was a bit of a slow start from him but once he really got his striking rhythm going in the second round OSP was totally outclassed and just couldn’t deal at all with the accuracy and power of the Brit. I’d always thought before that when he stepped up to the top five/seven level that Jimi looked out of his depth but that was definitely not the case here and after watching this you could make an argument for him to be in the top five right now behind the big four of the division (Jones, Cormier, Johnson and Gustafsson). The problem obviously is that he’s lost to two of those guys already, but in a relatively thin division – especially if Cormier, who he hasn’t fought yet, keeps hold of the belt – a title shot wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility soon. This was one of the best knockouts of 2016.

Middleweight Fight: Gegard Mousasi vs Vitor Belfort

Pretty great co-main event on paper here between two top Middleweights, but to be honest I was expecting a somewhat one-sided fight in favour of Mousasi after what I’d seen from Belfort in his May fight with Ronaldo Souza – there he’d looked flat, lost on the ground and finally seemed to be looking close to his age after the years of being pumped up on testosterone. For this fight he physically looked even worse at the weigh-in. I couldn’t see a kickboxer of Mousasi’s calibre getting caught in a rush from Vitor and I fully expected him to get Vitor to the ground and get him out of there pretty sharpish.

First round begins and Mousasi immediately stalks forward and lands with a low kick, backing Vitor up into the fence. Head kick is blocked by Vitor but must’ve hurt his arms. Front kick is caught by Vitor and he counters with a pair of left hooks, but Mousasi gets out of range and then wags his finger at him. Another left glances for Vitor before Mousasi comes back with one of his own. Mousasi’s really backing him up here. Big combo from Gegard. Pair of lefts set up a clinch for Mousasi but Belfort shrugs him off. Both men miss with quick combinations but Vitor still can’t seem to get off his back foot here. Leg kick connects for Mousasi. More kicks get through for Mousasi and he avoids a head kick from Belfort. Vicious leg kick from Mousasi. Under two minutes to go now and Mousasi is still walking Belfort down. Hard body kick lands for the former DREAM champ. Nice left hand snaps Vitor’s head back too. Quick flurry glances for Belfort but Mousasi again puts him on the retreat with a leg kick and a right hand. Big combo has Vitor hurt and Mousasi follows with a clinch, where he works the legend over with some shots inside. Vitor breaks with seconds to go, but the round ends with a Mousasi right hand and takedown. Round went excellently for Mousasi as he didn’t let Vitor out of first gear pretty much. 10-9 Mousasi.

Second round and right away Mousasi forces Vitor backwards. This gameplan is really working for him. Side kick to the body lands for him and he’s sniping at Belfort’s head with his left hand too. Hard body kick answers for Belfort but Mousasi takes it well and counters with a combo of his own. Takedown attempt from Mousasi and he drives Belfort into the cage, but the veteran blocks it and separates. Snapping jab lands twice for Mousasi and continues to back Vitor up, and suddenly a NASTY RIGHT HEAD KICK connects for him and has Vitor hurt! Belfort stumbles back and Mousasi OPENS UP WITH A VICIOUS COMBO that would make prime Belfort proud. Ref Marc Goddard looks like he might stop it with Vitor still standing, but instead Mousasi takes him down with a headlock and MAULS him on the ground with more brutal shots until Goddard finally calls it.

Pretty much a perfect performance from Mousasi as he came out with a brilliant gameplan of backing Vitor up and never allowing him to get comfortable enough to unleash his usual violence, and once he had Belfort hurt with a nasty combination of his own he didn’t waste any time in planting him on the ground and finishing him there. Finish was an exact replica of the last twice Vitor’s lost too, to Jacare and Weidman respectively. This should move Mousasi back up into title contention – if we assume the winner of Weidman/Romero has the next title shot then a match between Mousasi and the Rockhold/Jacare winner makes sense to me – and really it should signal the end of Vitor’s career as he looks totally shot now he’s off the testosterone and is now 1-3 in his last four fights. With anyone else I’d say this was a sad fight to watch but thanks to Mousasi’s awesome gameplan and the fact that due to his transgressions, Vitor isn’t exactly a sympathetic figure these days, that wasn’t the case and it was pretty awesome.

UFC World Middleweight Title: Michael Bisping vs Dan Henderson

Well as far as underserved title shots go this was up there with the best of them, as Henderson – despite coming off a win over Hector Lombard in June – was just 3-6 in his last nine fights, had openly talked about retirement following the Lombard win and in fact he’d outright said that this would be his last fight win or lose. Still, in this day and age of “money fights” being pushed over more deserving ones, it did make sense for Bisping’s first title defense to be against him. After all, despite all of Bisping’s accomplishments since then – including his title victory over Luke Rockhold – people were still talking about Hendo’s legendary 2009 knockout of him, and this was his chance for revenge, in his hometown just to make it all sweeter. Unlike the first fight, the favourite coming in this time was clearly Bisping, as Henderson’s chin was diminished as were his reflexes and speed (what do you expect at 46?) while Bisping was looking as good as ever, but due to Hendo’s right hand still packing that insane power you couldn’t count him out.

Round One gets underway and the crowd are absolutely rabid for Bisping. He pushes forward to begin, backing Henderson up but neither man throws anything in the first thirty seconds. Jab glances for Bisping. Head kick is blocked by Hendo but he takes a jab. Jab connects for Henderson in response. Wild right hand misses for Henderson and Bisping glances on a combination. Low leg kick into a right hand from Henderson but Bisping avoids it again. Classic Hendo combination right there. Bisping glances on a couple more combos but he can’t quite find his range. Takedown is sort-of teased from Henderson but he doesn’t come close. Combo lands for Bisping but he takes a jab. Head kick misses for the champ. Decent right hand lands for Bisping in a brief exchange and he beats Henderson to the jab a couple of times. Looks like he may be slightly cut, though. Just over a minute to go and the right hand glances for Hendo. Body kick from Bisping and another haymaker misses for Henderson. Bisping avoids some more heavy shots, but as he steps in to fire, Henderson counters with the right and BISPING IS DOWN! Crowd are horrified as Hendo dives in to try to finish him, landing BRUTAL ELBOWS that open a cut up under Bisping’s left eye, but somehow Bisping squirms free and gets to his feet! He’s badly hurt though and there’s blood pouring from his eye. Body kick answers back for Bisping and the round ends there. Jesus that was close. Clear-cut 10-9 for Henderson as I don’t think he dominated enough before the knockdown to warrant a 10-8.

Round Two and Bisping presses the action as both men fire with jabs and some low kicks. Bisping seems fully recovered somehow which is amazing. He’s throwing the lead left hook again too despite that being the shot that lead to the right hand. Head kick glances for Bisping and he follows with a low kick. Nice left hand into a right hook from Bisping and he follows with a combo that has Henderson really on the retreat. Henderson’s beginning to take some deep breaths. Left high kick glances again for Bisping. Nice combination lands cleanly for him and he continues to walk Henderson down and connect with strikes. Head kick seems to have Henderson slightly hurt but he recovers quickly. Right hand lands for Henderson but not cleanly this time. Another combo forces Henderson backwards. Beautiful step-in head kick from Bisping. Right hand follows and again Henderson looks slightly hurt. Bisping is connecting at will now. Counter right hand into a body kick have Henderson badly hurt and he backpedals towards the fence, and Bisping chases forward and lands some more punches. Looks like the body kick may have been a groin kick in fact that was missed by the ref. Henderson keeps going backwards but suddenly UNCORKS THE RIGHT HAND AGAIN and Bisping goes down for a second time! Henderson pounces into the full guard but this time he can’t really follow up, and Bisping ties him up from the guard and seems okay. His face is a mess though, wow. Round ends on the ground. Close round to score but I’d go with Bisping I think as he was outlanding Henderson by a huge amount prior to that knockdown and really, it was one punch as Hendo wasn’t able to follow it up. 10-9 Bisping for me but could go either way.

Round Three and again it’s Bisping who pushes the action, landing a left head kick early on. Nice combo from Bisping and another head kick follows. Henderson looks like he’s basically just looking to time the one big shot now as he’s tired. He does land a left hook but Bisping isn’t fazed. Couple of oblique kicks connect for Bisping as he continues to force the challenger backwards. Short right hand connects for Bisping and knocks Hendo slightly off balance but he seems fine. Bisping is just outlanding Hendo on volume at this point. Beautiful leg kick from the champion. Head kick follows but Henderson just about blocks it. Combo backs Henderson up but this time he comes back with a right hand in a brief exchange. Good right hand from Bisping and he avoids a couple of haymakers from Henderson before cracking him with a body kick. Takedown attempt is shrugged off by Bisping and Henderson is definitely beginning to gas. Big combo backs him up. Another one almost makes Henderson turn his back as he’s off balance, but he recovers fast. Seconds to go in the round and a right hand narrowly misses for the challenger. Head kick ends the round for Bisping. Clear 10-9 for Bisping that time as Henderson barely got any offense in.

Round Four and Bisping again pushes Henderson backwards with his pressure striking. Left head kick lands again for Henderson but not cleanly. Front kick into a left hand from Bisping. Nice leg kick follows. It’s amazing how well he’s recovered from that first round when you think about it. Clean counter right hand land for Henderson as they exchange some jabs, but Bisping takes it well this time and doesn’t seem hurt. Jumping switch kick lands for Bisping and sets up another combination. Body kick glances for Henderson. Low blow from Bisping and referee Yves Lavigne has to call time, strangely warning Bisping as it’s the second one in the fight, despite ignoring the one in the second round! That’s odd. They restart with about half the round remaining, and Bisping picks up where he left off by pressuring Henderson backwards. Both guys land jabs and then Henderson tries to back Bisping up a bit, but two left high kicks force him onto his back foot again. Left hook glances for Hendo. Nice combination follows, ending in a body kick. Haymaker right narrowly misses for the challenger but he walks into a counter combo trying to follow it up. Crisp leg kick connects for Bisping. Seconds remaining and a trio of jabs land for Bisping. Nice jab comes back for Henderson. Jumping kick glances for Bisping and the round ends with a knee strike landing for Henderson. 10-9 Bisping and I’d have him 3-1 up, but it could be 2-2 depending on that second round.

Round Five and Bisping opens with a short front kick to the body. Wheel kick misses for the champion but he dodges a haymaker right, only to eat a knee on his way out. Combo forces Bisping backwards but doesn’t have him hurt. Henderson’s clearly attacking more in this round though. Good combination from Bisping and now he’s back on the front foot. Sweeping left-right combo lands for the champ. Wild right hand just misses for Henderson. Clinch from Hendo but Bisping shrugs him off after taking a knee to the body. Left head kick glances for Bisping. Another combo lands for him ending in a body kick. Spin kick again misses for Bisping. Two minutes to go and this is a very close round. Another combo lands for Bisping. Uppercut glances for Henderson in retaliation. Counter uppercut lands for Bisping but Henderson walks through it to land a right hand. Takedown follows for the challenger but Bisping immediately scrambles up. Henderson uses almost a half-nelson to force him back down, but Bisping escapes to a big crowd pop. Jab connects for Bisping. One minute to go now! Head kick glances for Bisping and now he’s walking Henderson down again. Takedown attempt is firmly stuffed by Bisping this time. Seconds to go and Bisping continues to push forward, landing with a flying knee, but Henderson ends the fight with the Harold Howard rolling kick (!) and misses it, landing on his back where Bisping punches until the buzzer. That was a hell of a fight. I’d call it 49-46 for Bisping, but I could also see 48-47 if you give Henderson the first and second rounds.

Judges officially have it 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 for Michael Bisping to retain the title. Crowd go absolutely INSANE for that one as Bisping looks like he’s been in a serious car wreck. His left eye is practically swollen shut. And in a great moment post-fight Bisping puts over Henderson hugely and then praises the crowd, soaking in the cheers. He then absolutely TEARS INTO Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero and Jacare Souza, basically building a fight with any one of them because he’s FUCKING AWESOME. And then Henderson officially retires, finally gaining some massive cheers himself from the crowd and rightfully so. Next stop? It has to be the Hall of Fame, right?

Awesome fight at any rate. Not quite as good as the best five-rounders this year so far (Lawler vs. Condit, Bisping vs. Silva and McGregor vs. Diaz for me) and there’s been a handful of other fights I enjoyed more so I wouldn’t call it a FOTYC, but it wasn’t far off thanks to an amazing atmosphere and a real story being told of Bisping having to claw back from two massive knockdowns to hold onto his title by sheer will basically. Can he hold onto it for much longer? As much as I love him I don’t think so as I’d pick Weidman or Romero over him (assuming the winner gets the next shot) and as fun as it was seeing him avenge the loss to Henderson, it was also the best that Hendo had looked in a while which I think might be telling. Still, nobody picked him to beat Rockhold and he did it, so who knows. This was, regardless, probably the best main event in the UK since Bisping vs. Leben in 2008 I’d say.

Bantamweight Fight: Iuri Alcantara vs Brad Pickett

With time left on the PPV it’s prelim time – this one was on the FS1 portion earlier in the night, with both veterans looking to rebound from losses and really both men had their backs to the wall given Pickett was 1-3 in his last four and Alcantara was 1-2 in his last three. My pick was Alcantara as I felt like Pickett was basically a shot fighter at this point.

Fight begins and they circle before Alcantara lands with a kick to the body. Low kick from Pickett but Alcantara lands with a counter combo of a left hand and a double knee. Big left hook misses for Pickett as he recovers quickly. Body kick from Alcantara and he lands with a knee. Head kick is blocked by Pickett but he gets stunned by a NASTY SPINNING ELBOW and then a flurry puts him down! He looks about done, but he somehow holds on in the guard as Alcantara drops elbows and hammer fists. Kimura attempt follows but the Brazilian switches off into a mounted triangle instead, then rolls for an armbar, and then slaps the triangle back on and this time the dazed Pickett has to tap. Crowd go SILENT as you’d expect, Brazil-style.

Fantastic showing from Alcantara but it must be said that Pickett’s probably done at this point, no offense, as he’s just taken a ton of damage in the last three or four years after a hell of a career. You could probably argue him as a top three UK fighter in fact along with Bisping and Hardy (McGregor is Irish which isn’t the UK…). Not sure if this puts Alcantara back on track but even if it doesn’t, he’s a fun guy to watch usually so at least he’ll be sticking around.

-Show ends with some plugs for the upcoming shows (205 baby!) and that’s it from Manchester.

Final Thoughts….

Second-best PPV of the year behind UFC 202 for me, just about eclipsing the last Bisping-headlined one (UFC 199) by having just as many highlight reel finishes on the undercard but a much better main event. There’s literally not a bad fight on show here – even the HW tilt was a lot of fun – and while I’d call Bektic/Doane the worst fight due to it being a squash, it’s also a chance to watch a future top contender in action. Thumbs way up for this one and I’d go as far as saying it’s the best UFC show they’ve ever done in the UK altogether.

Best Fight: Bisping vs. Henderson
Worst Fight: Bektic vs. Doane

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: