I hope that you have already made up your mind on who won the bout between Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping. It has already been debated up and down the Internet and written about by every journalist in the game, you don't need me to tell you which man I gave a one point edge to in one of the most action packed, down to the wire, and bizarre bouts I have seen inside the Octagon. It was, however, also one of the more educational bouts you will see headline a card and as my job is to point to the beautiful and the vulnerable it makes for an excellent study.
From Silva, there was creativity and flamboyance, but the same difficulties he has run into in his last three fights against disciplined, thoughtful strikers. From Bisping there was thoughtful, disciplined work and use of feints and pressure to defuse Silva's counter fighting game—but there were also defensive flaws, clear habits, and moments of poor shot selection and wasted effort. And of course there was more controversy than you can shake a stick at.
I mentioned in my pre-fight analysis that I had always felt that though Bisping always fell at the last hurdle, he was an interesting match up for Silva because of his striking habits. Of course, he's not the one strike knockout artist that Vitor Belfort was, but his variety, discipline and work in counters and combinations has always been far more interesting against Silva's own craft. We also noted that Anderson Silva's 'decline' has coincided with his meeting opponents who will not lunge in behind their faces and give him the easy counters, but who will also not stand at range and allow him to throw long kicks without punishment.
It is the forward motion, the non-committal jab, the value of staying on guard, the ability to recover, and the use of the feint which frustrate Silva.
The constant feinting and variety of Bisping kept Silva from throwing effective counters, dulling his reactions and numbing his trigger finger. And it was Bisping's commitment to staying on top of his feet and always making a defensive motion of some kind—be it a duck, a slip or a stiff arm—after his attacks which made him so difficult to find. Feints undo the work of a good counter puncher and make him more hesitant, from Mike Tyson to Renan Barao, it's a principle which has been proven against the greatest boxers and fighters of all time. No amount of ranting 'No. He is MUUUUUUUUCHHHHHHH better than Bisping' after the fact will change the principles of striking. (That is actual technical analysis from the two day Twitter tantrum that the UFC's Brazilian commentator is on.)
Bisping also used low kicks and a low-line push kick to Silva's knee (one of Silva's own favorites) to break Silva's posture, mess with his timing, and generally defuse the threat of the counters Silva was always preparing.
At the end of the first round Silva made the realization that he had against Weidman, that waiting for the perfect opportunity to counter is not worth anything unless you actually find it. So Silva stormed forward in a burst towards the end of the second round—the short bursts of frantic hand and foot movement, pressuring his man towards the fence and concealing one or two laser accurate blows. It was here that we saw the reason that Silva so often doesn't like to lead with his hands. While storming forwards and using his presence to startle Bisping, he was clipped with a couple of decent shots. Something you will notice in great counter punchers is that they understand the openings in each lead and become very reluctant to offer them.
On the subject of recovering, Silva's deep, committed head movements once again got him into trouble though not in exactly the same way as against Weidman. Bisping had been doing decent work with a nice jab—stepping inside of the southpaw Silva's lead foot to create the straight line between shoulder and face inside of Silva's lead arm. Those of you who remember Andre Ward versus Chad Dawson will remember that this was one of Ward's key punches in that fight.
He would occasionally turn this into a very long but left hook—the kind Bruce Lee called a 'corkscrew hook'. On one occasion Silva ducked extremely low as this left hook came over and clipped him, and got caught with a couple of blows as he slowly came back to his guard. When a fighter works in ones and twos as Bisping does, it is often a shock when a third or fourth blow comes.
Where Silva did have success was in the brief clinches and with his knees. The stronger man and one of the best knee strikers to ever bless the game, he winded Bisping with a decent body knee along the fence in the third. After a couple of punches, Bisping's mouthpiece came out. If there is one thing which Bisping has been guilty of throughout his career it is trying to do the referee's job for him. In boxing when the mouthpiece is out, the action is stopped and the referee puts it back in. In mixed martial arts the referee usually waits for a break in the action. As Bisping was complaining that the referee hadn't stopped the action to put his gumshield back in, Silva hit him with a picture perfect jumping knee on the chin. This is where the fight got chaotic.
I said already that I am not getting into the 'who should have won' but I will say that Bisping was knocked out. Any other time in the round he'd have been done. If Silva hadn't made such a scene and Herb Dean hadn't stuck to his guns so firmly that he hadn't stopped the fight, someone in a position to stop the fight might have noticed that Bisping was in no condition to continue as the round ended. It doesn't matter that Bisping had been boxing Silva up and continued to out point the middleweight great, the rest of the fight was very uncomfortable as there was a decent chance that Bisping was getting hit in the head on top of an existing concussion.
So we were treated to the bizarre sight of a man who had just been knocked out continuing to get the better of Silva. Then Silva would pour it on for ten or twenty seconds in an attempt to steal the round, do some damage, and Bisping would survive and get back to feint, feint, jab. Silva went routinely to the fence, as he did against Stephan Bonnar, but from there accomplished very little for the most part. It would have been nice to see Bisping go to the body more, because Silva was able to take the power off of most of the Mancunian's blows to the head, but the simple fact that Bisping was throwing blows, landing one in every three or four and not getting hit in return was enough to stay ahead.
It was also refreshing to see the power of retreat on display. Silva knows the power of retreat, he's used it his entire career. If you move back the other guy moves forwards. So when Bisping was having little success in a flurry along the fence, rather than letting Silva mug to the judges, he took a step back and put his hands on his hips. Silva had to come back towards him and he got back to work.
There's a lot of talk about Anderson Silva's 'Wing Chun' and 'Filipino boxing', to be honest a lot of it was the usual hand waving / milling / enshin stuff that Silva always does. This low-high backfist was an absolute beauty though. We used to laugh about punching the leg but Silva has shown it time and time again to be an invaluable distraction and set up.
The counters were largely ineffectual, but staying unpredictable through twenty five minutes is pretty near impossible. Here's a nice counter jab that Silva hit along the fence. Notice here that Bisping isn't coming in from a moving start, there are no feints, he pauses and telegraphs his intention just as Yushin Okami did every time he threw his own jab.
The stiff combination at the end of round four was also terrific. Silva drove Bisping to the fence and attempted to counter with his back elbow as Bisping attacked, but missed. Then the two stepped in at the same time and Bisping ate a short left elbow. The same sort which caused Buakaw so much grief in is recent loss. As Bisping froze up, Silva did the old Naseem Hamed special, ducked out the window and came up with a lead southpaw uppercut into a left straight.
For more on that combination check out Ringcraft: A Study in Conor McGregor.
Finally, in the fifth round as he was getting touched up along the fence, Silva picked his lead leg straight up off of the floor and front kick Bisping square in the chin. The kind of 'no shadow' floor-to-jaw kicks Andy Hug would throw after covering up through a storm. Bisping was sent reeling.
Silva followed to the fence and used his favorite inside out kick—variously called a reverse roundhouse, an inverted roundhouse, a reverse crescent kick and all sorts of other stuff depending on what martial art you came to learn it through.
Notice the beautiful left hand that sneaks through after this. The Kyokushin karate competitor Norichika Tsukamoto loves this kick and will often use it to square the opponent's guard and follow with a jumping knee up the middle.
You could bicker over the result all day based on what you value in a fighter, which man you are a fan of, whether you appreciate or resent the notion of stealing rounds, and a host of other things. But Silva looked good, and for twenty or so minutes of the twenty five minute bout Bisping fought a beautiful gameplan which would have defused Silva's favorite methods if he had employed it last night or four years ago. That's high praise from me given that I have spent the last two years moaning about the UFC relying on too Bisping far too much to shift mediocre UK cards.
Silva, in turn, is being forced to recognize the need to go on offence more regularly now that he is fighting more measured, disciplined strikers and is looking as creative as ever. Certainly that knockout knee in the third is going to continue to cause contention for a long time. All I can say to that is try not to let it bother you too much. Jack Dempsey knocked Gene Tunney out in his second loss to Tunney, Mike Tyson knocked Buster Douglas down for a thirteen count in their fight. Sometimes fighting is just bizarre, but it is rare to come through a twenty-five minute battle and not learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of both men.
Perhaps this fight was a last hurrah for Silva and Bisping, though now it seems that Bisping is angling for a match with Nick Diaz. To be honest I'd rather see a rematch. It was a terrific fight laced with controversy—slap the rematch on another UK card and you have another easy sell out.