UFC 199 Breakdown: Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping

For the longest time, Michael Bisping has been the UFC’s answer to Dan Marino, or Dan Fouts. Both quarterbacks are Hall of Famers who were supremely talented and put up eye-popping numbers. However, both quarterbacks also failed in their quests to win Super Bowl titles that would have been put them among the truly elite quarterbacks of all time.

Bisping has been in the Octagon with some of the best and toughest fighters over his 10-year UFC career. But every time he found himself in a situation where he was one victory away from a guaranteed title shot, “The Count” came up short against guys like Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort. However, Lady Luck finally batted her eyes favorably at Bisping, who now stands on the precipice of finally being able to call himself champion.

Thanks to an injury suffered by former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, Bisping is stepping in to face current champion Luke Rockhold for the belt at UFC 199 on June 4. Can Bisping be like another Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, who finally reached the mountaintop and won Super Bowl titles late in his career? Or will he continue to call athletes like Marino and Fouts contemporaries?

Luke Rockhold

Strengths: What are Luke Rockhold’s strengths? They are many. He’s connected on nearly half of his strikes so far during the course of his career, and lands 40 percent of his takedown attempts. So he’s just as likely to beat you up on the feet as he is to get you down on the mat and pound you or submit you. He also defends nearly 60 percent of strikes thrown at him and defends nearly 70 percent of takedown attempts.

So as another UFC fighter, Donald Cerrone, is fond of saying, you better pack a lunch when facing Rockhold. Because you will have a long day. Rockhold trains at American Kickboxing Academy with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, so he comes into every fight as battle-tested as they come. That preparation was perfectly displayed late last year when Rockhold won the middleweight title from Weidman. Rockhold picked apart and dominated Weidman in every area, when many people thought Weidman was well on his way to be the next great middleweight of our time.

Of Rockhold’s 15 total victories, 13 have come via a knockout or submission. So as I said before, he can beat you in multiple ways. Rockhold has already defeated Bisping once, with a rear-naked choke in 2014. Rockhold also boasts victories against some other well-known fighters, including Lyoto Machida, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy.

Rockhold is about as well-rounded a mixed martial artist as you’ll find. Prior to his TKO victory over Weidman last year, Rockhold rattled off three straight submission victories. You really have to pick your poison against Rockhold, because he has no problem beating you on the feet or on the ground.

Weaknesses: What are Rockhold’s weaknesses? Not many, to be honest. He’s only lost twice in his career – to a noticeably juiced Belfort in 2013 and all the way back in 2007. Belfort defeated Rockhold with a devastating spinning head kick, but again, had a clear advantage going into the fight with his use of testosterone replacement therapy.

Rockhold has also only gone the distance twice in his career, against Souza and Kennedy. Both guys are Rockhold’s equal in terms of toughness, and I believe Bisping’s toughness has also grown over the course of his career. If Bisping can take Rockhold into the later rounds, it’s possible he can land some shots to help him eke out an upset victory.

Michael Bisping

Strengths: Bisping’s one of the toughest fighters in the UFC to never truly be looked upon as such by the majority of fans. You don’t last 10 years in the UFC without being tough. Bisping has landed more strikes per minute than Rockhold (4.4 to 4.15) and has averaged more takedowns over his career than Rockhold (1.2 to 0.58). So despite his lack of championship pedigree in terms of titles won, Bisping is one of the most underrated, if not the most underrated, in the sport.

Bisping has improved his game in all areas in preparation of his fight against Rockhold. His striking has bested some of the best in that area in his last several fights, including Anderson Silva, Thales Leites and Cung Le. Bisping’s ground game continues to improve as well, which needs to come in handy against someone as dangerous in that area as Rockhold. Even though he’s at an age when many fighters start to slow down (37), you can argue that “The Count” is just hitting his prime.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, even though Bisping’s striking game has helped him beat fighters like Silva, Leites and Le, he’s also come up short (sometimes in memorable fashion) against other elite strikers. His highlight reel knockout loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 in 2009 is still played to this day. He also came up short against fighters like Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen and Belfort.

I don’t think it’s unfair that to state that when Bisping is matched up against fighters considered among the very best in the world, he doesn’t rise to the occasion. Hence my comparisons of him to football players like Marino and Fouts. If Bisping doesn’t get over the hump over Rockhold at UFC 199, then the label of “failing to win the big one” will haunt him for the rest of his career. Bisping cannot be afraid of the moment.

Prediction

Many people believe the second meeting between Rockhold and Bisping will turn out pretty much the same way as their first – a second-round finish for Rockhold. But I’m inclined to give Bisping a little more credit this time around. He’s a better fighter now than he was just two years ago when he faced Rockhold. He’s a smarter fighter. Even on two weeks notice, I think Bisping has a puncher’s chance in this fight.

Now, do I think Bisping wins? Unfortunately, I can’t go that far. But it’s not an indictment of Bisping or his skills. I just think Rockhold is rapidly ascending in the UFC. He’s looked more and more impressive and dominant in each fight, and I still don’t think we’ve seen his very best. Even though a few credible sources are reporting that Rockhold will come into this fight injured:


I think Rockhold comes out on top in impressive fashion and stakes his claim to being one of the very best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Winner: Rockhold by TKO

Chris Huntemann on Twitter
Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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