The analysts for UFC on Fox and Fox Sports 1 broadcasts have been providing the most in-depth coverage mixed martial has seen in its 20 years of existence.
With a collection of seasoned fight veterans and well-versed hosts at the helm, the people working the pre- and post-fight shows for the UFC have consistently raised the bar.
In this installment of "Dropping Knowledge," UFC middleweight and all-around lovable guy Michael Bisping jumps into the passenger's seat to share his insights on Saturday night's card for The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale. When it comes to TUF, "The Count" is as well-versed as they come as the brash Brit has been on both sides of the program as a competitor then later as a coach.
The California transplant won the tournament and six-figure contract on the third season of the reality series then circled back to coach opposite Dan Henderson for the ninth installment, which featured fighters from the U.K. taking on their American counterparts. The Englishman was once again tapped for a coaching role opposite of Jason "Mayhem" Miller as the two outspoken middleweights battled it out during the 14th season of the program.
Outside of his involvement with The Ultimate Fighter, the 34-year-old has remained a fixture in the upper-tier of the middleweight division. He's found success in two of his last three showings, but an eye injury suffered during training forced him out of his scheduled bout with Mark Munoz at Fight Night 30 in October.
After a successful surgery, Bisping is looking to get back to slinging leather inside the Octagon and is projecting a return in early 2014. That said, he's still somewhat on the mend, but it didn't show when he sat down with Bleacher Report to chop up the action that is set to take place this Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Let's kick things off with the main event between Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz. These two have scuffled on two previous occasions with the "rubber match" set to go down this weekend. Looking at this matchup between two of the lightweight division's best fighters, where do you see the advantages for each fighter in this bout?
It's a tough fight to call. They've fought twice before with each fighter taking a victory and obviously pride is at stake. Nate Diaz is an angry fighter just like his brother Nick and there is definitely going to be some pride on the line for both of these guys. In the boxing department, Diaz has the advantage. He's six-foot tall, and he has a 76" reach, which is huge for a lightweight. I'm a middleweight and I only have 75.5". In this fight, he really has to use his range and keep Maynard on the outside. He will have to keep his output high and look to avoid Maynard's power. If he's able to keep that distance it will also be hard for Maynard to get in and take him down. In that respect, I think he has a huge advantage.
I think if Maynard is able to take him down, he can find success but he'll have to be careful. Obviously, Diaz submitted him with a guillotine in their first fight and Diaz is very dangerous on the ground. Taking the fight down could very well be in Diaz's advantage as well. Where I see Maynard having the biggest advantage is definitely in the power department. He hits a lot harder than Diaz. In their last fight, Maynard did very well in the boxing department and even though Diaz has the reach advantage, he wasn't able to use it to his best ability. He allowed Maynard to get in and land big shots and he really wobbled Diaz a few times.
Diaz has to be very careful of that. He probably has better technique boxing wise, but Maynard has a clear advantage in power. We get in there with those little gloves on and it only takes one good shot to win the fight. It's an exciting fight and I think it's either going to be Gray Maynard via stoppage with his fists or Nate Diaz winning with a submission of some sort.
Both of these fighters have been close to claiming championships in recent years. "The Bully" had his epic trilogy with Frankie Edgar, and the proud 209 representative was turned back by Benson Henderson when they squared off at UFC on Fox 5 in December of 2012. You are certainly familiar with this situation as you have been close to securing a title shot on several occasions but have come up short in your efforts. That said, you've proven to be able to bounce back with a head full of steam, and I'm hoping you would share some insight on what it takes to shake off the loss and get back on the horse?
You have to get back in there and prove it. That is the definition of a true fighter. Myself and these guys obviously want to get paid, but we also strive to be the best. We want to be the world champion. Realistically, any guy in the top 10 can beat any other guy in the top 10 on a given night. The skill sets and little gloves make for an interesting equation. It's not like it's beyond the realm of possibility for either of these guys to become champion down the line. We all saw how close the Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar fights were. Nate Diaz did a pretty good job against Benson Henderson. Even though Henderson clearly won the fight, Diaz wasn't outclassed.
These guys clearly have the potential to be world champions, but that all starts on Saturday night. Whoever loses is going to be out of title talk for quite some time and it will be a long time before they can rebuild and come back from that. Diaz has lost two in a row. Of course, those losses came against very tough competition and there is no shame there, but three losses in a row doesn't really bode well when you are looking to get a title shot. The same rings true for Maynard. He's in a similar position.
They've fought twice before and I don't think there is any love lost between them. In addition to looking to stay in the title talk, there is going to be a lot of pride on the line in this fight. For some people, pride means more. For me personally, the pride of beating somebody I'm a rival with matters more to me than the money or the title. Defeating that person and winning a competition against someone I'm rivals with means everything to me. There is a lot at stake on Saturday night and that's why I think both guys are going to come in terrifically conditioned, with the correct game plan, and ready to bring the goods on Saturday night. That's why I think it is a fantastic main event.
Nate Diaz and his older brother Nick are absolutely two of the most polarizing figures in MMA. You also have your own unique brand of bottled lightning. What is your take on how the younger Diaz plays the game?
I don't think he's playing a game. Him and his brother, I just think that is the way they are and the way they were brought up. They obviously come from a tough neighborhood and that's just who they are. There is a game that can certainly be played, but this is just who the Diaz brothers are. They don't really give a damn if they offend people.
They like to see real people out there. For me, it's not an issue to go out there and be rude. Yes, you don't have to be fake and this and that, but that doesn't mean you have to be rude at the same time. People do respect fighters who have a gritty side to them. These guys come in, they mean business, and that's really what is the most important. Who they are at the end of the day is really none of my business. I enjoy watching them fight and I think they are great competitors and great athletes.
Moving on to TUF action, one half of the finals will feature two talented young fighters in Chris Holdsworth and your fellow countryman Davey Grant. How do you break this fight down stylistically?
I think this is actually a very evenly matched fight. Davey Grant used to train with me a long time ago back in the U.K. I remember the first time I saw him I thought the kid had something. I lost touch with him and then I saw him on The Ultimate Fighter. I was happy to see him on there and as soon as I saw his face, I thought this kid was going to be in the finals. The first time I saw him in the gym I noticed he had the work ethic—which is the most important thing. Of course, he also had natural talent. Those two things will take a fighter a long way. He has great stand-up, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu. He also has a great work ethic and he's willing to learn. He's going to be a tough matchup for anyone.
His opponent, Chris Holdsworth, I only became familiar with by watching The Ultimate Fighter. But from what I've seen, he looks very good. His jab looks very good. He also has good takedowns and a solid submission game. I really think this fight has the potential to be one of the classiest finals matchups of all-time. We've seen some great fights in the past. Obviously Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar made history on the first finale, and Kendall Grove and Ed Herman had a great fight at the end of the third season. I think this one is going to be no different.
I think this one will go down in the history books as one of the best finale fights ever. They are both tough guys and are very evenly matched. They both want to be The Ultimate Fighter so tune in and watch this fight because it's not going to be one you want to miss.
On the women's side of things, the final will feature two spark plugs in Julianna Pena and Jessica Rakoczy. Both have shown a preference for banging it out on their feet, and both have shown a particular knack for aggression. If that is how this thing goes down, who do you see having the advantage?
In terms of technical striking, Rakoczy has a huge advantage. I think she's still the IBA champion and has had five world titles in the past. Striking wise—or at least with the hands—she's second to none. That said, Pena is aggressive and I like to watch her fight. I was watching her fight yesterday for my research and she was enjoyable to watch. She hits hard and is not afraid to throw combinations. With the little gloves, people like to get in to land the shot then get out. She's not afraid to stand in the pocket and throw combinations. She also has some nice takedowns and has some solid submission skills as well.
Even though Rakoczy is a boxer, she's trying to transition into the MMA world and anyone who doesn't work on their takedowns would be a fool. I'm assuming she's working hard on her grappling but she's still playing catch up in that department. If I was putting the money down I'm leaning towards Pena to be honest. Rakoczy has an absolutely beautiful jab and she's able to keep her opponents at the end of it all night. She has the ability to win by knockout but I'm leaning towards Pena on this one.
With the emergence of WMMA, are you surprised the women have seemed to be the bigger draw on this season of TUF?
I'm not too surprised because this is the first time women have been showcased in that fashion on this series. That was always going to be a talking point and a focal point to be honest. We've had something like 20 seasons of watching the men slugging it out and that is nothing new. Seeing a couple of girls step in there and fight for that contract is something new and it brought a different and exciting element to the program.
Every time the women have fought in the UFC they've always delivered. The women get in there and steal the show. The last TUF finale had Miesha Tate versus Cat Zingano and that was an incredible fight. They deliver every time and I'm not sure of the exact stats but I'm sure they've won "Fight of the Night" on several occasions. They come out there with something to prove. They want to prove they have a place in mixed martial arts. This is still a relatively new thing and there is a lot of room to jump ahead. These girls want to establish themselves as household names and solidify themselves at the forefront of women's mixed martial arts. There is a lot at stake here and I think that has been showing in their fights. It's no surprise to me that they've really stood out on this season of The Ultimate Fighter.
As someone who has won the tournament, contract and hoisted the glass plaque, how does winning the show affect a fighter's life and the road ahead?
This has the ability to change your life, but it's up to them. Winning the show is one thing, but after that, they have to stay in the UFC. Winning the contract is fantastic, but staying in the UFC is the real challenge. It's all up to them and how they handle it. Winning the show comes with a lot of pressure, responsibility, and a lot of work.
The work isn't over just because you've won The Ultimate Fighter. That's just the beginning of the journey. For me, that was a long time ago, and I'm still working hard, still talking to you, and still doing all the obligations. That's up to them. If they are willing to work hard, train hard and have the ability to win fights, then they should have a very bright future ahead of them. But if they let it all go to their head and think they are the next big thing, then that bubble will burst pretty quickly and we'll forget about them. It's really on them and how they handle this situation.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.