Sonnen (left) shocked champion Silva in their first meeting by dropping the Muay Thai fighter on the feet. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
When Mark Munoz was forced to pull out of his co-main event bout with Chael Sonnen, many fans found themselves even more excited for the bout as Michael Bisping stepped up to replace him. Sonnen and Bisping are two of the most polarizing fighters in the division, and both are known for their ability to offer soundbites that the masses love to eat up. As if the fight needed any more hype behind it, Dana White recently announced the winner would get the next shot at Anderson Silva's middleweight title in the summer.
The self-proclaimed undefeated and undisputed middleweight champion of the world, Sonnen doesn't let simple things like the multiple losses on his record or Anderson Silva's belt get in the way of his narrative. While Sonnen-bashers like to claim he has talked his way to prominence, and it's true his mouth may have led to a quicker rise, it's hard to dispute the dominant performances Sonnen has turned in against the best fighters the division has to offer in recent years.
Sonnen earned a shot at Anderson Silva's middleweight title by stringing together three consecutive dominant decision victories, capped off by back-to-back wins against guys ranked number two in the division when Sonnen fought them, besting first Nate Marquardt and then Yushin Okami. Sonnen went on to win the title in dominant fashion, if you ask Sonnen, or dominated for 22 minutes before succumbing to a round five triangle choke by the champ if you ask anyone else. After a year off as a result of a suspension when Sonnen tested for elevated testosterone for the Silva fight, during which he further complicated manners with a long string of events best described as Sonnen being Sonnen, the Oregon native returned to the cage to take on a red-hot Brian Stann, dominating Stann before finishing the bout with an arm triangle choke.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Sonnen can wrestle. He wrestles really, really, really well, and nobody in recent years has proven capable of stopping Sonnen from grabbing hold of them and dragging them to the mat, where he is an expert at staying active and dealing damage to tenderize the faces of his opponents. On the feet, Sonnen is less reliable, however the constant takedown threat helps to make up for sub-perfect technique, and Sonnen even dropped Silva on the feet in their bout. Although submission defense is certainly Sonnen's biggest weakness, the extent of difficulty the area presents for Sonnen is overplayed of late. Since a submission loss to Demian Maia, it took more than 50 more minutes of playing in the guards of BJJ black belts before Sonnen was caught again. In that time, he escaped multiple guillotines from Dan Miller, stymied all submission efforts by Marquartdt, and calmly escaped multiple threatening subs by Silva.
Although Sonnen showed some rarely-utilized finishing skills in his last outing with Brian Stann, looking very much like a fighter who used his year off to work on one of the larger deficiencies in his game, Bisping is a far better grappler than Stann is. Most likely, Sonnen's route to victory is to take Bisping down, lock him down in a tight half guard and rain down ground-and-pound from on top. Rinse. Repeat. Sonnen takes a clear unanimous decision, but doesn't merit any play in fantasy betting where, at -420, there's just not money to be made without tying up a massive chunk of your bankroll.
Michael Bisping analysis after the jump.
If there's anyone in the sport who draws more extreme reactions from fans than Sonnen, it's Michael Bisping. Loved by fans in the UK, hated by most fan anywhere else, Bisping was cast as the villain foil to Matt Hammil on The Ultimate Fighter 3, and nothing Bisping would do inside the Octagon en-route to winning the show would be enough to counteract the label of "that guy who was a whiny jerk about his deaf teammate." Since the show, Bisping has embraced the hatred, never shying away from taking shots at his opponents to ramp up the public's distaste.
After a rough stretch which saw Bisping go just 1-2, "The Count" has bounced back with a four fight winning streak. In his last two outings, Bisping has provided an answer to critics who criticized him for having "pillow fists." Although the moniker was never overly fair for a fighter who has now stopped five of his eight victories, the TKO stoppages ofJorge Rivera and Jason "Mayhem" Miller have driven home the point that if an opponent allows Bisping's accurate and technical striking to keep finding a home, the Brit has the ability to end things early.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Bisping is the kind of fighter so reviled by the majority of MMA fans that they are quick to underplay his strengths and overplay his weaknesses. On the feet, Bisping is a highly-technical striker capable of outpointing the vast majority of UFC middleweights and, if you allow the fight to stay there for 15 minutes without having strong striking of your own, to rack up the damage until you wilt. Although Bisping hasn't proven to be much of a threat off his back, this is primarily due to an excellent ability to get back to his feet after being taken down, perhaps the most useful possible skill for a striker to carry into a bout with a takedown machine like Sonnen. Although claims he will submit Sonnen off his back are likely more bark than bite, that ability to pop back up to standing will be crucial if Bisping is to have his hand raised.
The path to victory for Bisping is pretty clearly well-defined. If he can stay on his feet for substantially more time than he is on his back in two of three rounds, Bisping will take the decision. If the Brit can't stay on his feet, he is likely to lose. If going out on the limb and seeking the bonus points of Bisping, take a unanimous decision for the Brit. Bisping pays out at +380, less than he is offered on the real books, and is rightfully a massive underdog. Had we seen more of Sonnen since the layoff than just the Stann fight the line would likely be bigger, and I'd recommend staying away from Bisping both straight up or in the parlay.