Following a close decision loss to the No. 2 middleweight in the world, Chael Sonnen, on UFC on FOX 2, English star Michael Bisping has shown that he can compete with the best. Many fans, including myself and even UFC president Dana White, felt that the Brit actually won the fight thanks to his superb takedown defense and solid gameplan.
However, all three judges cageside saw it for the All-American wrestler, leaving Bisping one fight short of his long-desired title shot for the second time in his career. Much like his crushing KO loss to Dan Henderson, "The Count" will need to group and continue to work at making himself a better fighter.
After proving that he can defend some of the best takedowns in MMA and even get up quickly, here are just five key things that Michael Bisping needs to work on to put himself in position for a title shot once again.
This may be nitpicking, but if Michael Bisping is going to continue to fight the best, he is going to need to show that he can do more than just stall a fighter when on bottom. Against Sonnen, he seemed more inclined to hold and stall rather than attack because he knew he had a better chance with the fight standing.
The middleweight division has several skilled takedown artists, and though "The Count" has the skill to avoid and even get up from being taken down, he needs to make people fear taking him down. His ground strategy needs to have more tools than just stalling, because once you show you are very dangerous on the ground, fighters will be less inclined to try and take the fight there.
There have been several moments in Michael Bisping's key fights were he seems to go from skilled striker to wild brawler, with some of those situations ending poorly for him. Bisping is a very skilled boxer, one of the best in the division, who can and should control the striking aspects of nearly every fight.
However, in MMA, anything can happen, so allowing an opponent to get off and get the upper hand can lead to being knocked out, taken down or defeated in a fight you should win.
On Saturday, at UFC on FOX 2, Bisping faced a fighter with a very attacking style in Chael Sonnen, a fighter who continually comes forward and attacks standing. Always giving way to the attacker, like Bisping does, puts the defending fighter on his heels and can lead to bad outcomes. Bisping needs to do a better job of balancing his attack and keeping distance rather than going into a backing-up, brawling style if he wants to raise his level and get over the hump in No. 1 contender fights.
One of "The Count's" best skills is his ground-and-pound thanks to his effective positioning and solid punching power. Michael Bisping has been improved takedown skills, even securing one in the waning moments of the fight against Chael Sonnen. If Bisping would be able to add effective takedowns to his toolbelt, fighters would be in true fear of one of the most complete fighters in the middleweight division.
By securing more takedowns, he can put himself in more advantageous positions while also avoiding one of his downfalls. Bisping's ground-and-pound has been his key skill to many of his wins in the UFC, making it even more important to get more takedowns. More importantly, by getting fighters to think about the takedown, he can avoid them rushing in on him and putting him on his heels. In all three of this UFC middleweight losses, Bisping found himself being attacked and was unable to turn the tide back toward himself.
One of the new tools that Michael Bisping showed in his last fight was the ability to control a fighter in the clinch and against the cage. Several times, the heavily-favored Chael Sonnen seemed stuck against the fence by Bisping, leading to many to feel Bisping was controlling the fight. However, despite the fact the seemed to have the upper hand, all three judges gave the fight to Sonnen thanks in large part due to The Count's inactive nature while in the clinch.
If Bisping can prove that this isn't just a one-time trick and show this can be something he can incorporate in every fight, he will need to become much more active in the clinch. Now, being active doesn't mean that you give up your advantageous position by throwing wild punches; rather, you throw more body shots and work for takedowns.
With a strong clinch game, fighters will be even less inclined to attack Bisping and go for takedowns for fears that he will be controlled against the fence and taken down himself if he attacks.
One of the reasons I believe all three judges gave the close decision to Chael Sonnen was the fact that the All-American wrestler got off to a fast start in every round, making Michael Bisping have to fight from behind in the judges eyes. The quick takedown to start two of the three rounds made it difficult for the judges to turn around and give the round to "The Count."
With a faster start, Bisping can show that he is the fighter in control and make his opponent fight from behind, leading to more mistakes and openings for the Brit to take advantage of. Just imagine what an attacking, forward-stepping style would do in the minds of the judges and the fans.
If Michael Bisping can incorporate these five changes into his game, he will not only become one of the most feared fighters at 185, but will finally get that title shot he has been longing for.