Michael “The Count” Bisping and Luke Rockhold have been swapping barbs for months. Be it on Twitter, during interviews, or at press conferences, the two fighters have not kept their disdain for one another a secret. They’ve mocked each other for recent losses. They’ve questioned the legitimacy of one another’s records. They even got into it over a sparring session that happened years ago.
Maybe it’s petty, maybe it’s justified, but the two middleweights don’t seem to like each other one bit. Thankfully, they’ll have a chance to bury the hatchet in less than two weeks. In the main event of UFC Fight Night 55, which goes down on November 8 in Sydney, Australia, the pair will slug it out to settle their score. It’ll surely be a relief for both men (and for any fans that are tired of the squabbling) as it takes a lot of energy to feud so fervently. But the fight is important for more reasons than the end of their beef. It’s a must-win for both men.
Is it a number one contender fight? Probably not. With Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort’s meeting bumped back to the first quarter of 2015, and monsters like Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel Romero waiting in the wings, the road to the middleweight strap is a long one. The victor, of course, takes a step in the right direction, but more importantly, the winner stays relevant. A loss won’t send either man to the unemployment line, but it would certainly be damaging.
Let’s take a look back at each fighter’s recent records. They’ve both got wins in the rear-view; Bisping’s was over Cung Le, and Rockhold’s were over Costas Philippou and Tim Boetsch. But they’ve both also recently stumbled near the top of the mountain— Rockhold against Belfort, and Bisping against Belfort and Tim Kennedy. It’s an unfortunate truth, but a truth all the same: fans don’t give top-ten fighters very many chances.
If you falter once on the verge of title contention, you can bounce back. Falter again, with hard work; you might climb back to the top rung. Falter a third time and you’ll find yourself labelled “good, but not good enough,” branded with words like “gatekeeper.”
Bisping is in more danger of this fate than Rockhold. As a middleweight, he’s tasted defeat against several elite fighters, and a loss to Rockhold will probably be the final nail in the coffin of his championship hopes. Considering his age (he’s 35) a defeat in Sydney seems even more likely to send the Brit to the point of no return— career twilight spent in the cage with mid-level fighters like Thales Leites and Tim Boetsch.
Rockhold is younger, and has only tasted defeat twice in a seven year career, so he’s got a little more wiggle room. That said, losses to perennial top-tenners like Belfort and Bisping would not be good for him. If he can’t punch his way through the top-ten, how are we supposed to believe he can cut it against the champion? He’s only 30, so it’s possible he’d have time to work his way back to the top, but a loss to Bisping might leave him in a middleweight grey area too.
Yes, the stakes of this matchup are high for both men, and not just because they’ve laid their dignity on the line with a war of words. They both need a win, but more importantly, neither can afford a loss. So, when the cage door closes on the 8th of November, who emerges victorious? That’s hard to say.
On paper, Rockhold seems to have the advantage in most facets of the game. He certainly hits harder, and he’s got a size advantage to boot. He’s also the stronger wrestler. The odds say he’ll win for a reason. That said, experience is a dangerous weapon, and Bisping has it in droves. Having clashed with the likes of Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Brian Stann, Cung Le, Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, and Yoshihiro Akiyama, it’s unlikely Rockhold will hit the Brit with anything he hasn’t felt before.
That fact bodes well for Bisping. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that a calm, collected Count frustrates his younger opponent en route to a win— be it a stoppage or a decision. With five rounds to play with, both fighters certainly have a lot of time to make something happen.
It’s an important fight for both men, and for the division they call home. Which man will fight off gatekeeper status and rise to the occasion? Until fight night, there’s no way to know. But given the animosity between the pair and the implications this fight has for their careers, you can expect it to be a hell of a fight while it lasts.