Tonight the UFC rocks Acer Arena in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia with UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch. The evening promises to be electrifying with a main card studded with potential for brutal knockouts, breathtaking submissions, and “Fight of the Night” honors with former lightweight and welterweight champion “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (16-7-1) again moving up to the welterweight division to take on American Kickboxing Academy phenom and Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu black belt Jon Fitch (22-3). Also on the roster is The Ultimate Fighter 6 alum and Australian native George Sotiropoulos (14-2) facing German kickboxing champion Dennis Siver (17-7) in a lightweight bout of the classic striker vs. grappler match-up, and “Lights Out” Chris Lytle (30-17-5) welcomes UFC newcomer but seasoned veteran Brian Ebersole (39-13-1) to the Octagon after an offering from “KO” Kyle Noke (18-4-1) and Chris Camozzi (14-3) kicks off the evening. The co-main event, however, offers perhaps the best chance to see “Knockout of the Night” with two famed strikers going head-to-head with British slugger “The Count” Michael Bisping (20-3) teeing off against “El Conquistador” Jorge Rivera (18-7). With long-time UFC Middleweight Champion “The Spider” Anderson Silva (28-4) systematically picking off his challengers one-by-one, both Bisping and Rivera look to take one step closer to earning a shot at the UFC’s coveted 185lbs. title.
At First Glance: It goes without saying that this bout has personal written all over it. Both of these men have talked a tremendous amount of trash leading up to this bout, going beyond the interviews and into the realm of personal attacks and degrading YouTube videos. This has gone beyond the normal pre-fight banter even between fighters who personally hate one another. The pride involved only compounds itself when the total lack of respect each man has for the other is factored in. There are also serious career ramifications for each fighter. Both men have a legitimate case to be put in line for the UFC Middleweight Championship with a win as they represent a very small portion of the UFC middleweight division, the portion that has both consistently performed well and has not yet lost to Anderson Silva in the UFC. Breaking down a bout with so many personal and professional implications is often at best a shot in the dark as the mixture of pressure, pride, and acrimony can and most often does alter the way a combatant fights. On paper, “The Count” sits 10-3 in the UFC and has a far more refined and disciplined skill set, especially on the feet, than Rivera, who sits 7-4. This bodes well for the Brit who should remain fairly tight despite the pressure due to the muscle memory developed in his training where Rivera’s brawling style will only grow more telegraphed and less effective with strong emotion in the mix.
In Depth: Bisping is the classic kickboxer using orthodox fighting strategy, superior footwork, quick 1-2 combos, and leg kicks to keep his opponent off-balance and stay one step ahead as he picks his foe apart over the course of the fight. Jorge Rivera on the other hand tends to be more on the unorthodox side of the stand-up game, utilizing techniques such as spinning back kicks and elbows to change the pace of the bout and catch his opponent by surprise while seeking the one-shot KO with a pawing jab followed by a wide overhand. With these two contrasting styles , it is difficult to determine which fighter would have the edge over the other. Each has its merits. Where Bisping’s classic style allows him to conserve more stamina and provides his opponent with fewer openings, it is also very predictable and displays a more inside-the-box kind of thinking that has trouble accounting for the more organic attacks of Rivera. Jorge’s more raw, athletic style allows him to attack from odd angles and in a less predictable manner but requires a large amount of energy and leaves him fully exposed to counters when his broad, sweeping attacks miss their mark. When in doubt, the more technically sound striker is the safer bet. Bisping’s evasive and clean striking style will allow him to land more frequently and with less effort than Rivera, giving him the decided edge so long as he avoids “El Conquistador’s” powerful right hand. This advantage will grow more and more telling as the fight wears on and Bisping steadily piles damage on Rivera.
Wild Card: Though a clear cut winner would be hard to pick in this fight, Michael Bisping certainly seems to be the better fighter on paper with a better record and resume in the UFC backing up his odds in the match-up. Jorge Rivera can change the nature of this bout in a split second, however. Should he be able to connect with one of his unconventional strikes or a hard right hand it would likely put Bisping on the canvas seeing stars and eating his words. While Bisping certainly has a strong chin, Rivera has the punching power at range to put just about anyone on the mat. With his recent win over “The Rock” Nate Quarry (12-4) and a well-placed spinning back fist or right hook to the jaw of “The Count”, Rivera could shock all of Sydney, the UFC, and Bisping into thinking that he might be a pretty good title contender or at the very least a top UFC middleweight.
The Verdict: While Rivera has the puncher’s chance in this ordeal, Bisping has the capability to knock him out and also has the footwork to use the “stick and move” plan just as he did in his fight with “The Crippler” Chris Leben (21-8) but it is likely that Bisping will seek to end the fight quickly and violently rather than staying evasive and fighting to a decision in this bout. With all the insults Rivera has thrown his way “The Count” will want to embarrass him in front of all of Australia and the world. While this will open the door for Rivera to land the one big shot he needs as Bisping headhunts instead of picking his shots, it is still a situation where the bad outweighs the good as Bisping’s cleaner kickboxing will allow him to land first in most situations. Look for Bisping to deliver a swift beating and a quick finish as he capitalizes on his more accurate striking to land a multitude of right and left hands following the first opening offered by Rivera’s flashier style. Bisping via TKO, Round 1.