Simply put, Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping is the biggest fight the UFC has promoted in Britain since 2008.
In terms of fan anticipation, it may be even bigger than title fights involving BJ Penn or Quinton Jackson as it sees the sport’s greatest ever champion test its greatest British fighter’s record of never having been defeated in his home country. While there may be no gold on the line, the stakes are high. Either man will proceed to further lucrative headlining appearances if they win, while a loss may bring their career to an end.
I consider myself second to nobody in my admiration for Bisping, but it’s hard to argue against the idea that at his best, Silva would have been too good for Britain’s finest. The former middleweight champion is such a nightmare matchup for “The Count” that predicting his route to victory in such a hypothetical fight becomes next to impossible due to the surplus of options.
A prime Silva would have dominated the stand-up game due to having greater knockout power, superior striking technique, and more durability. But it’s not just the stand-game where we the Brazilian would have the edge over the Brit. As seen in his fights against Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen, Bisping has the defensive wrestling to stop a takedown but he’s poor at evading or escaping the clinch. And while it’s frustrating to be held upright by a former collegiate wrestler that becomes a lethal weakness against a Muay Thai master. It’s very easy seeing a fight between Silva and Bisping end in a similar fashion to the Brazilian’s second fight against Rich Franklin. And should the fight go to the ground, Silva has the superior grappling skills, and would be favoured to secure the submission.
Of course, Silva’s prime was a long time ago and it’s been almost three years since he was dethroned as middleweight champion. That fact has made some people overconfident about Bisping’s chances. The reality is that both men are approaching the end of their careers. Both men are not just older than either Luke Rockhold or Chris Weidman, but have significantly more fights than either man. (Bisping alone has more total fights than Rockhold and Weidman combined.) And both men have had to come back from significant health problems, whether it be Silva’s broken leg or Bisping’s detached retina.
The question is whether Silva can regain something of the spark that was clearly absent in his fight against Nick Diaz. While the Brazilian won a convincing (and of course tainted) victory, it was a lifeless performance from a man who seemed to be going through the motions. That he couldn’t knock out or even significantly hurt an opponent who was giving up so much size raises questions about the remaining potency of his striking.
And yet, I still believe that Anderson Silva will win Saturday given that Bisping has stylistic similarities with Diaz. While Bisping is a more traditional kickboxer, he shares with the American the ability to grind down his opponents through volume striking due to superior conditioning. The key difference is that whereas Diaz is always looking to come forward, Bisping often falls back against opponents with significant striking power. Remember that Bisping let a much diminished Wanderlei Silva escape with a victory due to refusing to engage in the pocket. Providing Silva can intimidate Bisping early on, the fight could quickly descend into a long-distance war of attrition that would play to the more precise and illusive Silva’s strengths.
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It’s for that reason that Bisping’s best hope for a victory is that in his time away, Silva has further deteriorated from the diminished fighter we saw at UFC 183. It’s possible, but just as plausible, that Silva took the Diaz fight too soon after his leg surgery and that the past year has given his body and mind chance to fully heal from what he went through.
Should Silva show up in anything approaching good condition, he will likely end not just Bisping’s undefeated home record but his outstanding hopes of finally receiving a UFC title shot.
Will Cooling is a freelance writer who writes on combat sports for Fighting Spirit Magazine, pop culture for Geeky Monkey and politics at It Could Be Said! He’ll be covering UFC Fight Night London for Wrestling Observer live from cageside.