Michael Bisping took his fans on another crazy roller coaster ride of emotions en route to the first defence of his UFC middleweight belt. While Gegard Mousasi, Jimi Manuwa and Mirsad Bektic all recorded the finest performances of their UFC careers to arrive as title contenders in their respective weigh divisions… Here’s your main card report from Manchester.
Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson
Bisping had to pick himself up off the floor twice after swallowing not one but two ‘H-Bombs’, but bloodied and battered he survived the onslaught to grind out an incredible points decision from the judges. Showing shades of the start of the year, when he was KO’d by Anderson Silva but was saved by the end of the round, Bisping had to return to the well to retain his title.
The judges scored the fight 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 in favour of ‘The Count’, much to the disappointment of the retiring Henderson who thought he had done enough. But the champion was just sharper throughout the fight, using his cardio to pepper Henderson with kicks and strikes.
Bisping was close to being cleaned out in the opening round, however. Hendo connected with his first big ‘H-Bomb’ in the final minute and the champ was sent sprawling to the canvas. Dan followed up, but somehow Bisping survived the ground ‘n’ pound assault – just.
Incredibly, Bisping, despite now sporting a huge mouse under his left eye, came out swinging again in the second. He set the pace for four minutes once again, but then walked into another huge right leaving him holding on to the hooter once more.
Showing incredible fortitude to overcome the demon of that same shot wiping him out in their first match at UFC 100, Bisping managed to negate the third and fourth rounds without taking a clean right hand. Back to his gameplan, bloodied Bisping may have appeared like a beaten man but he was fighting like a champion. Pot-shotting with right hands and drilling in those leg kicks, Hendo was wilting.
The challenger enjoyed a brief foray in the second half of the fourth, after a low blow from Bisping forced referee Yves Lavigne to provide him with five mins to recover, which he duly accepted, and briefly rallied from. But heading into the final round Henderson had to land another big shot to claim the one belt missing from his collection.
And boy did he go for it, mixing up takedown attempts with his boxing and now kicks, he even tried a rolling wheel kick in the closing moments. But by now Bisping was in the zone. He was beating the veteran to the punch and hurting him too. Both looked glad to hear the final hooter when it eventually came.
Hendo signs off with another incredible display, while Bisping again proves he’s one of the toughest SOB’s in the game. And he’s not about to give up his UFC gold lightly.
Michael Bisping said: “Of course, Dan Henderson hits hard and he opened up a couple of big cuts on my face. But I feel completely fine, I remember everything about the fight. The crowd were amazing. I could hear the energy from the fans throughout the entire event. I want to thank them all for showing so much energy, it was incredible. I felt that.
“Big respect to Dan Henderson. He’s a legend of the sport and I want to say well done to him. It’s amazing what he’s achieved in this sport and to be able to fight at this level, and bring it like that, at his age – I just have massive respect for him. Now I look forward to the next one. I’ve still got the belt, I’m still the champion and I’m very happy. It was close but it’s never easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it. Until the next time. God bless England.”
Dan Henderson said: “I feel like I performed well. I may have gotten a little bit tired, perhaps I could have been a little bit busier throughout. But I made sure I really went after him in that fifth round and I felt like I got a takedown and I scored enough to win that round. I felt like he didn’t really hurt me at all, with anything. It’s just unfortunate that the judges didn’t see it my way. Overall, I’m very satisfied with what I’ve achieved in my career. I know I have accomplished a lot.”
Vitor Belfort vs. Gegard Mousasi
Dutch striker Mousasi proved he was indisputably among the plethora of 185lb’ers deserving of a shot at the UFC middleweight title with his statement TKO of former champion Vitor Belfort. The much travelled 48-fight veteran produced the performance of his UFC tenure to obliterate Belfort inside two rounds.
Mousasi led from the first bell. He closed the distance of Belfort and never allowed him the space he needs to unload his knockout strikes. Vitor just couldn’t catch his breath as Mousasi stalked him hard, unloading crippling leg kicks and eye-catching boxing skills. Even when Vitor did land a flurry, Mousasi wagged his finger in response and went right back to work, hurting Belfort to the body.
If the first round was a shut-out, then the second – for as long as it lasted – was pure showmanship. A huge right high kick from Mousasi almost lifted Belfort’s head clean off his shoulders. The former champion did incredibly well to stay on his feet, but sensing the finish Mousasi smashed away with rights and lefts before the two hit the floor. There he worked for top control, overpowering Belfort, then rained in ground ‘n’ pound before referee Marc Goddard saved him from further punishment.
Gegard Mousasi said: “I feel good, ready for the next one. I think I’m number five in the division now. Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson are in front of me but I don’t think I need to prove that I’m a better fighter than them. I’m way more technical than them. I’m in the top five of the middleweights for sure. To get a finish is always better, that’s what the fans want to see. I think I was flawless in the fight – a flawless victory, baby!”
Ovince St Preux vs. Jimi Manuwa
Manuwa produced a thrilling finish to his top ranked light heavyweight clash with OSP, picking off the Knoxville grappler with some lethal boxing early in the second round. The best win of the Londoner’s career – St Preux went five rounds with Jon Jones in April, but had no reply to Manuwa’s power.
Form the start it was clear what ‘The Poster Boy’ planned to do. Looking to stand and trade, it was OSP who scored two big takedowns and convinced some at ringside that was enough to take the opener. But Manuwa’s powerful knees in the guard and even a late guillotine attempt proved his dominance.
OSP looked like he’d drained the tank with all the grappling in the first five minutes, and early in the second he was back peddling up against the fence like prey being stalked by a predator , with Manuwa bobbing and rolling forward picking kicks and strikes.
The finish was textbook Manuwa. With OSP pinned against the fence he landed a big right that robbed the senses fo the former college football star, then patiently worked away against the guard before unleashing a perfect left hook around the guard and on the chin. Ref Leon Roberts was between them almost before OSP’s limp body hit the canvas.
Jimi Manuwa said: “All the hard work I put in over the weeks and months paid off on the night. People come to see me fight because I don’t come for decisions. I come to put my opponents away. Doing it in front of a UK crowd makes it even more special. Look at the size and the volume of the crowd, it gives me energy and it’s a great feeling. I should be top five now and that’s a great feeling, to be in the top five in my weight category in the world.”
Stefan Struve vs. Daniel Omielanczuk
Skyscraper lied to us. He spent fight week telling eveyr member of the media that we’d see new and improved standup game from the Dutchman. But after getting tagged a couple of times in the first half of the opening round by the Pole, Struve judo tripped Omielanczuk to turn the fight overwhelmingly in his favour.
By turning the heavyweight contest into a grappling match, Omielanczuk was a mere bystander. Struve was just too big, too long and too proficient on the mat for the Pole, who had no response when he was judo tripped to the desk.
A similar takedown at the start of the second round led to the finish. Struve’s go-to gym submission he revealed afterwards, the D’Arce choke was all she wrote for Omielanczuk, who’s three-win run was brought to an abrupt end before he could even get going.
Stefan Struve said: “My legs weren’t fast enough out there. My legs felt a little tired. Before the fight I knew that if it went to the ground, I would be able to get the submission. I took my time and tried not to tire myself out too much. The darce is one of my favourites. I would love a big fight next to prove that I’m still one of the best in the world. The goal is of course that rematch to fight for the belt so I would love that opportunity.”
Daniel Omielanczuk said: “I think I won the first round, mostly standing. In the second round I got caught in that d’arce coke and that was it. I felt that I was doing well before that. The fight shows that I need to work more and more to get even better, and to show in the future that I can win fights on this level.”
Mirsad Bektic vs. Russell Doane
You’ve got to feel for Russell Doane. The Honolulu veteran was already on a 0-3 skid, the worst of his career, and he gets handed a late notice fight against one of MMA’s hottest unbeaten prospects. Bektic was brilliant – again. The young ATT assassin worked through the gears, beat Doane up on the feet, took him down and worked to the back for a slick rear naked choke submission in the first.
The potential at the hands and feet of the now 11-0 Serbian holds no bounds. He can box, he can scrap, he can grapple, he can roll. He’s 100% legit and it’s going to be difficult to keep him on a leash for much longer. Indeed, 2017 could be the year the young Nabraska-raised stylist sets the world on fire.
Mirsad Bektic said: “This moment feels so natural. I’ve been visualising it for so long. We’ve had so many opponent changes but I just stayed focused on myself and what was going to happen. I got injured so I was away for a little bit but I’ve been in my room all week, staying focused, focusing on my fight and I just really wanted to enjoy the moment and look out at the crowd. I’ll take that moment with me when I die. I’ve been a prospect for a long time but I’m not a prospect any more; I’m a contender and that’s that.”
Russell Doane said: “I took this fight on short notice. I came out, I fought. It is what it is. I’m going to have a baby this month so I’m going to take some time off, help out with the baby and then I’ll get right back to training after that.”