Analyzing Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson II in-depth is pointless since for once, the masses have it summed up pretty well: Bisping should maul him but that right hand . . .
I’m not here to talk about that, so if you really want an analysis the summary is below. If you don’t, skip to the bold.
Bisping has aged like wine; alongside grappling demon Damien Maia, he is the only fighter older than 35 that I can say is still getting better with each fight. He has evolved from kickboxing point fighter to one of the most well rounded mixed martial artists to come through the UFC. He has shed his pillow fist reputation after winning the title with two blistering left hooks that left the was-champion Luke Rockhold limp against the cage.
Dan Henderson is 3-6 in his last 9. Consider that after being forced off TRT he couldn’t even make 205 lbs. so you can argue that his win against Shogun Rua can be questioned. The two other wins were Tim Boetsch (who ran headfirst into Henderson’s right hand) and an undersized, cardio-less Hector Lombard. Everyone else ran circles around him while his bravest opponents simply tested his chin on the counter.
Bisping was controlling the first fight before Henderson caught him circling into his power hand. Contrary to what Henderson is saying now, he has been on record warning Chael Sonnen to “[Not] believe the stuff about Bisping not being able to punch – he hits hard”. It should be noted that after their (controversially judged) fight, Sonnen heartily agreed. Bisping has only hit harder since then, while age and lack of TRT have liquefied Henderson’s chin.
But Bisping has a horrible habit of getting cracked by right hands from far inferior strikers; Denis Kang, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jorge Rivera, Brian Stann and CB Dolloway were all able to stagger the Brit with right hands over the top when his left hand lagged. Not a good look against the king of right hands.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
Bisping and Henderson fought 7 years ago and have since racked up a combined 31 fights between them. Their first meeting is now borderline inconsequential, its importance eroded by fresher rivalries and father time. But for the two men who participated, the fight has stayed with them in contrasting ways.
For Henderson, the highlight of him attempting manslaughter on Bisping has carried him well past the point where people should’ve been paying to see him fight. For Bisping, it bears a special scar on his psyche and reputation.
For example Benson Henderson, a professional class act, has admitted that it stings to see him eating the Showtime Kick on highlight reels constantly. Bisping’s loss was infinitely more humiliating, and fans who found his brash personality too abrasive were happy to hold it over his head.
The thing is, Michael Bisping redeemed himself.
He chugged along for seven years, routinely proving he was one of the best fighters in the world. Sure people still didn’t like him, and it was still fun to watch him lose but eventually people grew to respect Bisping; it wasn’t cool to mock him anymore. Then there was his gutsy performance against Anderson Silva where he survived being knocked out (yeah you heard me) to grind out a decision win.
Then he got called up fight Luke Rockhold on short notice.
Rockhold was a fighter who I’d pegged the most dangerous in the division, which was received by much laughter from my peers. Even after his loss to Vitor Belfort, I saw what few others did; a long, freak athlete of a southpaw with a dedicated body attack and stellar submission defense. Before dropping a controversial split decision to Yoel Romero, the only fighter that had beaten him in four years was Rockhold. Plus he’d kicked Bisping to death and choked him out in their last meeting.
This was the biggest title upset in UFC history after Matt Serra’s shellacking of GoAT candidate Georges St.-Pierre. I and many others had long pointed to Holly Holm as Rousey’s most dangerous challenger so were unsurprised by the win (though shocked by its brutality). But no one gave Bisping a real chance here, with even the most generous of fans believing Bisping would squeak by with a decision. Nothing indicated that Bisping had the tools to negate the range and skill discrepancies.
The moment the ref waved off the fight, any antipathy towards the cocky Brit all but evaporated.
His path to the title was truly by the sweat of his brow, grinding away at the middleweight ranks even as TRT-infused opposition and controversial decisions held him back. He came up on short notice to fight the man who’d dethroned Chris Weidman, a middleweight who was well on his way to usurping Anderson Silva as the greatest in his division. He slew the goliath, and it’s hard to hate on David.
Then, Dan Henderson scored an improvised knockout of Hector Lombard and got a title shot.
By all accounts, Bisping has outgrown his failure against Henderson. But UFC matchmaking now has the highlight of him smashing Rockhold played alongside Henderson sleeping him as the crowd cheers and whoops. And the only thing he did to earn it was to beat up an undersized one minute man and posterize Bisping back in a different era.
It’s like if you soiled your pants in grade school and got made fun of for it until you graduated. You became successful and had a wonderful family, and then randomly the people who made fun of you back in the day show up on your lawn and force you to fight them.
UFC 204 is like the climax of a hero’s long odyssey, where he realizes that he cannot outrun his demons but must face them instead. He must face a man whose presence essentially says, “I knocked you out so hard I can get title shots years later”.
So this is the grudge match. If Bisping wins, his redemption in the UFC will be complete and undeniable. If Henderson wins, Bisping’s reputation will unfairly tumble just as he gained something of hero status.