Preview, Picks and Betting Tip: UFC 199 – Rockhold vs. Bisping

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Over the last few months in the world of MMA, all the talk has been about UFC 200. From fantasy matchmaking, to actual matchmaking, to press-conference beefs, to some more matchmaking, we have been bogged down juuuuuuust a little bit too much by a well-rounded number.

As a result of all this mayhem, UFC 199 has completely flown under the radar. But under the radar she shall fly no more.

The event, which takes place on Saturday night at The Forum in Inglewood, California, features two title fights and would be considered a very important card if placed almost anywhere else.

In the headlining spot, middleweights take centre stage as Luke Rockhold puts his title on the line for the very first time in a rematch with bitter British rival Michael Bisping who replaced injured former champion Chris Weidman two weeks out.

A former Strikeforce champion, Rockhold has been in or around the top-5 of his division for years.

Having debuted in 2007, the California native quickly made his way to the Scott Coker-run promotion after just two fights. In his next 9 Strikeforce outings Rockhold not only held the belt, but remained undefeated beating the likes of Keith Jardine, Jacare Souza and Tim Kennedy long the way.

In 2013 he then made his way over to the UFC along with the rest of the newly merged Strikeforce employees independent-contractors but things started badly when he was brutally knocked out by Vitor Belfort (who had the use of a then-legal-now-illegal testosterone replacement therapy therapeutic use exemption.)

Since then, though, Rockhold has won five in a row with Lyoto Machida, and, ominously, Bisping both most notably taken out before winning the strap against Weidman in December.

Bisping has likewise been around the top ranks of the middleweight division for years, although this is the first time he breaks into the championship picture.

A member, and the eventual winner in fact, of season 3 of ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Bisping has now fought 25 times inside the Octagon – the most of anyone ever without getting a title shot. Along the way he has been on the brink of championship contention many times,  losing to Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen when a title shot could have just been around the corner.

What sealed it for him this time, along with injuries and suspensions to his close rivals and a genuine beef between the pair, was a win over MMA GOAT Anderson Silva having entered that fight on a two fight win streak.

When looking at this rematch I suppose it’s somewhat important to look back at the first meeting. In that bout, Rockhold was always in control and won via submission in the second despite a close first round which also saw Bisping come out on the worse end of a clash of heads.

It wouldn’t be too surprising if a similar result was to occur again this time around, especially considering the circumstances.

As always, Bisping will fight in his all action manner with tidy jabs, nice combination work and the odd kick thrown in to mix it up. Facing him, Rockhold will let his right hook go early and land it in conjunction with straight left hand and kicks to the legs and body.

In his last couple of fights, a normally confident Rockhold has almost been horizontal in his level of comfort inside the Octagon. His ability to pick his shot when he feels it is right is almost second to none. Against someone like Bisping, who will come at Rockhold and give him opportunities to land, that doesn’t bode well.

I fully expect Bisping to put up a good fight here and to make Rockhold work for the win. But at the end of the day, winning is exactly what Luke Rockhold will be doing.

Another rematch of two people who really don’t like eachother takes place in the evening’s co-main event as bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz takes on long-time rival Uriah Faber for the third time having previously won one fight a piece.

Faber, a former WEC champion, is a perennial top fighter in the world and is now a veteran of mixed martial arts despite his ‘California Kid’ moniker. Wins against the likes of Cruz, Bibiano Fernandes and Jens Pulver, and a raft of fights against bigger men at higher weights, have made sure Faber’s legacy is safe as he enters the twilight of his career. Now 37 years-old and a 13 year professional, though, this could be the last chance saloon for a man who has failed to win a version of the UFC bantamweight title 3 times already.

Although Cruz has never lost in the UFC, he has had arguably an even worse time than Faber since the WEC merger. After being named the UFC champion in 2011 following that WEC merger Cruz defended his belt just two times before injury ravaged the next 3 years of his career. Upon his return the newly stripped Cruz destroyed Takeya Mizugaki but again injured himself to the point where he was on the sidelines for another year. Again, he resurrected himself from the treatment room in January of this year and put on a phenomenal display to beat TJ Dillashaw and take back the title he never lost inside the cage.

Considering this is the third fight between these men you’d think it might look something similar to the first two, but I doubt it will. In the first meeting, Cruz was very green and just putting his game together while the second fight, at UFC 132, had both men relatively close to the top of their games, somewhere Faber just isn’t anymore.

As always we will see a lot of movement, varied footword and strange striking angles from Dominick Cruz. In that second fight Faber did extremely well to either hit Cruz before he started his attacks or catch him on the way out. To win on Saturday, he’ll need to do that again.

For me, though, I think that’s unlikely. In his most recent fights Faber has looked progressively older and meets a Dominick Cruz who looks like he hasn’t lost a step despite the injuries. Against Cruz, speed and reaction time is of the utmost importance because of his unusual activity on the feet. Lack in those areas and you’re looking down a barrel of a 360 degree gun with eight limbs.

Now, Faber will still be dangerous with big bombs and his submission game but I’d be very surprised if this was anything other than a Dominick Cruz procession.

Outside of that the meetings of Dan Henderson vs. Hector Lombard and Bobby Green vs. Dustin Poirier should be interesting, along with the return of English prospect Tom Breese who takes on Sean Strickland, but the main one to look out for is Max Holloway vs. Ricardo Lamas.

With the UFC featherweight division currently up in the air with champion Conor McGregor fighting at welterweight and an interim title up for grabs between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar at UFC 200, this could be a real chance for one of these two men to put their name in the hat for some of that action.

Currently riding an 8-fight win streak, Holloway will enter the bout as a big favourite but that doesn’t mean he’ll have an easy night. Lamas, a strong wrestler with extremely dangerous striking, will been looking to keep himself in the picture after recent losses to Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes and might just try to expolit a potential weakness in the wrestling department Holloway showed earlier in his career. Although he’s now vastly improved all around and I’m picking him to win, I think this could be a little tougher than the walk in the park many people are expecting.

FIGHT PICKS

Luke Rockhold (c) vs. Michael Bisping – Rockhold TKOs Bisping early
Dominick Cruz (c) vs. Urijah Faber – Cruz wins at least 4 rounds and a unanimous decision
Max Holloway vs. Ricardo Lamas – Close fight but a Holloway decision win
Dan Henderson vs. Hector Lombard – Lombard should be too fast and get the KO
Dustin Poirier vs. Bobby Green – Great fight with Poirier coming out on top

Cole Miller vs. Alex Caceras – Caceras
Brian Ortega vs. Clay Guida – Ortega
Beneil Dariush vs. James Vick – Dariush
Jessica Penne vs. Jessica Andrade – Penne

Sean Strickland vs. Tom Breese – Breese
Jonathan Wilson vs. Luiz Henrique da Silva – Silva
Kevin Casey vs. Elvis Mutapcic – Mutapcic
Polo Reyes vs. Dong Hyun Kim – Kim

BET OF THE WEEK

This week it’s a 5/2 accumulator of Rockhold, Breese, Cruz and Poirier.

START TIMES

Early Prelims – 11.15pm on Fight Pass

Prelims – 1am on BT Sport 2

Main Card – 3am on BT Sport 2

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma