UFC 204 – Bisping vs. Henderson: Analysis. Picks. Betting Tip

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The forever red city of Manchester, England plays host to the latest UFC pay-per-view event this Saturday night as two veterans of the sport meet for the second time at UFC 204.

On paper, this card is a pretty good one all things considered and is filled with known entities and some of the very best prospects this side of the world has to offer.

People like knockout artist Marc Diakiese, Leon Edwards and Ian Entwistle are all possible stars of the future featured on the prelims but it’s the old guard who leads the way this weekend with Dan Henderson travelling to enemy territory to take on UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping.

And although Bisping, a native of Clitheroe (a small town just North of Manchester,) currently holds the UFC’s 185 lbs strap it’s still a bit weird to fathom. Despite the fact that he has been a fantastic, top-ranked fighter for close to ten years, the tag of champion is something many people – myself included – never thought would be attached to Michael Bisping.

After winning the third season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ to enter the UFC, Bisping was almost immediately into big fights with possible title implications at stake. First it was Rashad Evans, then Chris Leben, Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva in quick succession. Unfortunately for Bisping, Leben was the only fight of that quartet which he won. And although wins came against the likes of Dan Miller, Mayhem Miller, Alan Belcher and Brian Stann, Bisping again fell short against Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort when he looked to be close to title shot.

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In the last year though, things have changed. Firstly, Bisping came through a titanic war to beat Anderson Silva which earned him a shot at, then champion, Luke Rockhold on just over a week’s notice following an injury to Chris Weidman. As we know Bisping defied all the odd in that one and knocked out a man who had brutally beaten him in their previous meeting – something he will be attempting to do again on Saturday night.

To do that he’ll have to get through Dan Henderson, a man with one of the longest and most storied careers the sport is ever likely to see.

To say Henderson is an MMA veteran is an understatement. Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort and Fedor Emelianenko are just four of a litany of names Henderson has taken out in a career which started way back in 1997. He has fought in UFC tournaments, battled PRIDE Grand Prix, won belts in PRIDE and Strikeforce and fought for the UFC title on two occasions.

And although Henderson has been a tremendous fighter for as long as most people can remember, he hasn’t been for a while. Now 46 years-old with 3 wins and 6 losses in the last few years, it looked like Hendo’s time in MMA was coming to an end until Bisping resurrected him to the title talk. Last time out he spoke about retirement but an emphatic knockout of Hector Lombard put that on the backburner for another while.

As a piece of matchmaking this one is really more about rivalry than recompense. Bisping is here because he cracked Rockhold, Hendo is here because he cracked Bisping.

And cracking Bisping is exactly what he will be trying to do again come 6am on Sunday morning.

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Over the years Henderson has generally gotten slower, more predictable and less effective. He will plod forward, give a weak attempt at a leg kick, throw his left hand jab or hook and fling an overhand right with every sinue of effort that his almost half-century old body can muster.

And that’s about it.

Sometimes he will clinch or wrestle, and he is very dangerous if you give him an opening in close when standing up, but Henderson’s game is about as simple as it can get in mixed martial arts today. Try to land the power shot. If it doesn’t land: try again.

Bisping on the other hand, is a little more complicated. Although he is probably a little bit past his physical best too, Bisping is still agile and athletic enough at this point in time that the technical smarts he has picked up over his years of fighting are still useful to him.

His game is a very much based on pressured striking. His main objective is to walk his opponent down and get them backing up. To do that he throws a big volume of strikes but it a pretty efficient manner. He has a nice jab, solid right hand and good kicks to all parts of the body. As he showed against Luke Rockhold, he is well able to find the target in the exchanges and has improved his countering over the last while, especially with his big left hook. Although Henderson is an Olympic standard wrestler – or at least once was – you wouldn’t be too worried if you were a Bisping fan thanks to his extremely strong takedown defence.


That leaves us with a very cat and mouse type of fight. Henderson looking to set his trap and land that one big finishing blow. Bisping trying to back him up and stop him from even getting started.

In their first meeting, Bisping was caught because he circled through the power right of Henderson one too many times and Hendo did a good job of closing off the space as he did that. This time out he will be very weary about defence. Look for all of Bisping’s initial movements to be in a forward direction. If he gets pushed back he will stay at a distance when he can use his superior speed to circle away in either direction. If he gets tight against the fence he’ll need to fight out hard with strikes – while all the same time watching for the haymaker – or he’ll need to beat Henderson for speed after initially circling away from the power.

For Henderson, it could take just one shot to end it all. That could come when they get close and he sees an opening or after some good footwork and cage cutting. That could come at any time. For Bisping, it’s a matter of good defense between large portions of successful offence.

For me, the speed of Bisping relative to Hendo is just too much to breakdown even if the striking battle is lost – which I don’t think it will be. I see Bisping coming out here and backing Henderson up in front of the Manchester crowd, being the frontrunner and taking it by the scruff of the neck. If he can do that, I think he’ll get the stoppage.

A stoppage is also the route I see the co-main event between Vitor Belfort and Gegard Mousasi going. Belfort, who has wins over both men in the main event, is a shadow of the TRT-enhanced monster he once was and should be easy pickings for Mousasi once he stops the initial burst.

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Look for Vitor to come out swinging hard with wild punches and spinning kicks once he feels Mousasi out early doors. Gegard – for his part – will be well aware of that. He’ll be looking to used his length to keep Vitor away while jabbing him up and going for takedowns. If he doesn’t land that big shot early I think Vitor will get put on his back. From there it shouldn’t go too much further.

Also on the card you have Ovince St-Preux taking on Jimi Manuwa in an important enough mid-tier light-heavyweight bout, Stefan Struve vs. Daniel Omielańczuk in a totally unimportant heavyweight scrap and Mirsad Bektic going up against Russell Doane following an injury to Arnold Allen last week.

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For me, Bektic is one of the top prospects at any weight in MMA today and it will be interesting to see him back after a long stretch on the injury list. He could be one to watch in an ever changing featherweight division.

FIGHT PICKS 

Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson – Hendo can’t land the H-Bomb, Bisping gets revenge
Vitor Belfort vs. Gegard Mousasi – Takedown and ground and pound open up the win for Mousasi
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Jimi Manuwa – I think OSP is just a little more crafty.
Stefan Struve vs. Daniel Omielańczuk – I’m taking Omielańczuk in the upset
Mirsad Bektic vs. Russell Doane – Submission for Bektic

Iuri Alcântara vs. Brad Pickett – Alcântara
Ian Entwistle vs. Rob Font – Font
Damian Stasiak vs. Davey Grant – Grant
Leon Edwards vs. Albert Tumenov – Tumenov

Danny Roberts vs. Mike Perry – Hot Chocolate
Leonardo Santos vs. Adriano Martins – Martins
Lukasz Sajewski vs. Marc Diakiese – Diakiese

BET OF THE WEEK

Mousasi via submission at 6/1

START TIMES

Early Prelims – 12am – Fight Pass

Prelims – 1am – Fight Pass and BT Sport 2

Main Card – 3am – 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