Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight punchers Michael Bisping and Kelvin Gastelum will clash tomorrow morning (Nov. 25, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 122 inside Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China.
Tomorrow morning or really, really late tonight, depending on your timezone and opinion of such things.
Either way, it’s been a hell of a month for Michael Bisping. He may have lost his title in a legitimately great fight with Georges St. Pierre, but “The Count” is back and intent on reminding fight fans that he earned his scrap by taking on all comers, anywhere and anytime. It’s a hugely important bout for Gastelum as well. He tasted defeat for the first time at 185 lbs. last time out thanks to the wrestling and strength of Chris Weidman, so the pressure is on for Gastelum to bounce back strong against the former champ.
It’s a legitimately great fight on an overlooked event, so let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man.
Key Wins: Luke Rockhold (UFC 199), Anderson Silva (UFC Fight Night 84), Dan Henderson (UFC 204), Thales Leites (UFC Fight Night 72), C.B. Dollaway (UFC 186), Brian Stann (UFC 152)
Key Losses: Georges St. Pierre (UFC 217), Luke Rockhold (UFC Fight Night 55), Tim Kennedy (TUF Nations Finale), Vitor Belfort (UFC on FX 7)
Keys to Victory: Bisping’s style has never changed, even if the small details have been fine-tuned. He’s a high-volume kickboxer, a man who capitalizes best in the late rounds of fights as his opponent begins to fade. He’s also an underrated wrestler, one of the most difficult men in the sport to hold down.
In this bout, Bisping definitely has his back against the wall. Gastelum’s fast, accurate power punches pose quite a few problems for Bisping, a man who generally does his best against fighters looking to force the takedown. Opposite men trying to jack his jaw — ones that are not sloppy brawlers at least — Bisping’s record is not so sharp.
The bright side is that Gastelum’s speed advantage comes at a cost. Bisping will be the larger man, and it’s exhausting to fight a bigger foe. If Bisping fights smart, he can drag this thing out, make it ugly, and potentially pull away late.
To fight smart, Bisping has to chop Gastelum’s legs at range and limit the younger fighter’s spring. If he can slow Gastelum down just a touch, it will be far easier for Bisping to show his boxing experience and counter the wrestler. Additionally, Bisping might want to force the clinch, where the Englishman can weigh down on his foe between dirty boxing combinations.
Record: 13-3 (1)
Key Wins: Johny Hendricks (UFC 200), Tim Kennedy (UFC 206), Rick Story (UFC 171), Uriah Hall (TUF 17 Finale)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC on FOX 25), Tyron Woodley (UFC 183), Neil Magny (UFC Fight Night 78)
Keys to Victory: Owner of perhaps the crispest 1-2 in either of his divisions, Gastelum is a well-rounded young contender who picks foes apart on the strength of his fluid movement and feints. It’s not complicated, but it’s damn effective.
This is something of a straight-forward match up for Gastelum, who doesn’t really have to worry about the takedown this time around. Pretty much the only time Gastelum has really struggled in the Octagon is against fighters looking to pin him to the mat, which helps explain why he’s a 3-1 favorite.
Opposite Bisping, Gastelum’s first priority should be stick Bisping with the jab. Utilizing his fast jab will help nullify Bisping’s size advantage and allow him to land more power shots as the fight moves on. Feinting into the left hand is definitely Gastelum’s usual approach that will find him success here, but I’d like to see Gastelum throwing the left high kick more often too. As St. Pierre said, Bisping has trouble seeing shots from that side, and he’s been smashed by the left kick a few times in the last few years.
Bottom Line: Only the winner will be in the Middleweight top five.
Realistically, Bisping is not going to return to the title mix. His career is almost over, and he faces a steep uphill battle against any of Middleweight’s truly elite athletes. That’s not to say he can’t beat them, but it will be seriously difficult to accomplish once, let alone the multiple times a title run requires.
There’s not a ton on the line for Bisping, who deserves massive respect for even taking this fight. Win or lose, he wants at least one more bout in England, which is very likely where he’ll retire.
As for Gastelum, the stakes are incredibly high. He has championship-level talent, but as of right now, has not fully lived up to his potential. That’s going to be hard to do against larger men at 185 lbs., but Gastelum has to keep fighter at Middleweight until he’s permitted to drop back down to Welterweight.
With that in mind, Gastelum has to win this fight. Contenders cannot afford to go 0-2 against fellow contenders if they wish to remain relevant. A win, meanwhile, does give Gastelum some momentum at 185 lbs., although he would still be best-advised to keep pushing for Welterweight.
At UFC Fight Night 122, Michael Bisping and Kelvin Gastelum will face off in the main event. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?