How? Punches, sure. Luck? No more than any other stunning result during an MMA encounter in the Octagon.
The 185lbUFC belt changed hands for the seventh time on Saturday when Luke Rockhold didn’t see a Bisping left hand – a punch that snapped his jaw and put him down. Champions lose their status all the time in the UFC, and Rockhold failing to defend his belt for the first time is not, on its own, surprising. But the fact that it was Bisping who knocked him off – well, that’s where things turn.
Rockhold manhandled Bisping in 2014, and looked and acted supremely confident after taking the title from Chris Weidman. And though Bisping was in fine form, winning three straight including a deserved decision over Anderson Silva – the king of the division from 2007 to 2013 – there wasn’t much of an argument to make for his chances before Saturday’s fight. Yet here we are.
Certainly, Bisping has been a terrific fighter over the course of his career. He started 14-0, then did well enough to twice put himself in position to fight for chance at belt. He just never got over the hump. Rockhold had the air of a champion about him since he stepped into MMA. He won and defended the Strikeforce title, and other than a hard fall against amped-up Vitor Belfort in 2013, the Californian Rockhold has dominated.
What does it say about the action in the UFC that Bisping can look like he’s not in the same league as Rockhold one night, but move with him, throw and land a great finishing punch the next time around? And what is the net result of these wild fluctuations in outcomes?
Accepting that heavyweight is its own kind of whirlpool, where no man has retained the title more than twice, helps put Stipe Miocic’s victory over a seemingly primed Fabricio Werdum in its own context. If Miocic drops the title to Alistair Overeem in Cleveland, and Overeem drops the belt to next guy in line, no one will think anything strange of it.
The remaining weight classes in the UFC have all experienced eras of dominance, so there can still be shock when a champion goes down. The best example, of course, is Matt Serra stopping Georges St-Pierre in 2007 in the Canadian’s first welterweight title defense. This turned out to be a hiccup for GSP, who dominantly returned the favor in the rematch a year later and held onto the belt for nine straight defenses over 2,064 days.
A measure of a great UFC champion could be 1,000 days in a row with the belt. In the UFC that comes across as a legitimate milestone, and only seven champions have achieved such an attachment to the title. Ronda Rousey (six defenses over 1,074 days). Dominick Cruz (injuries allowed only two defenses over 1,117 days). Tito Ortiz (five defenses in 1,260 days). Demetrious Johnson (eight defenses awaiting his ninth currently at 1,355 days). Jon Jones (eight defenses over 1,501 days before being stripped last year). Jose Aldo (seven defenses in 1,848 days). GSP. And Anderson Silva (a record 10 defenses over 2,457 days).
When dominant champions emerge fighters underneath them are forced to advance, like how this generation of golfers regularly display skills that Tiger Woods used to make look awe-inspiring. Now everyone crushes it 350 yards down the fairway. In that same way, mixed martial artists in the UFC have advanced.
Matt Hughes, whose his total between two title reigns lasted 1,577 days, led to GSP because it took a GSP-level athlete to displace him. We have Jon Jones because of the fighters who came before him, and it’s an absolute truth that, somewhere, a fighter has watched Jones, whose reign should be longer than it is were it not for his troubles outside the cage, and is inspired to beat the guy.
Will Bisping engineer a long run atop 185? He seems less like a Woods-inspired golfer and more Colin Montgomerie, though say this about “the Count” – he won his big title in the US.
On the same card that Bisping stunned Rockhold, Cruz, the 135lb king, displayed once again that when he fights it’s highly probable he wins. Fighters like Cruz are bulwarks against arguments that UFC fights are crapshoots.
As much as any sporting competition, a margin for error does not exist in MMA. Fans know this, and have come to revel in parity as a sign that exciting things happen when people fight in a cage. Even at the highest levels.
From time to time, great fighters emerge and assert their style on others. And it’s happened that a fighter’s dominance has led to fans being bored. Sometimes dominance isn’t pretty. Bisping would be fine with that if it meant he held on to the belt for a bit, though that seems as unlikely as him winning it in the first place.
Then again, in MMA, you never know.
This article was written by Josh Gross, for theguardian.com on Thursday 9th June 2016 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010