Amid all of the fallout this week from the tepid results of the UFC’s second live show on network television -- where many of the criticisms are warranted and many are not -- it’s somehow fitting that the event’s most impressive performance came from a guy who didn’t even win his fight.
Arguably only Michael Bisping emerged from Saturday night’s largely underwhelming UFC on Fox 2 main card looking better than when he entered. By dropping a tight decision loss to top middleweight contender Chael Sonnen, Bisping actually improved his stock while many of the other the marquee names could merely tread water or -- in some cases -- took steps backward in the eyes of hardcore fans and MMA-centric media types.
Naturally, like most everything in the fight game, this had more to do with our own expectations than anything else.
As more than a 3-to-1 underdog headed into the fight, most observers thought Bisping would get crushed by Sonnen. We’d just seen the former Oregon wrestler tear through what seemed like a bigger, perhaps more dangerous version of Bisping in Brian Stann at UFC 136 and, on paper, we didn’t see any way the Brit could ward off Sonnen’s smothering takedowns and top control over three rounds.
In the end, Bisping didn’t pull off an upset, but he sure did a lot better than we anticipated.
While he couldn’t totally prevent Sonnen from taking him to mat, Bisping didn’t look out of his league, either. He proved surprisingly capable at using the fence to quickly get back to his feet and in the standup exchanges, he touched up his hard-charging opponent with crisp, if ultimately ineffectual punches.
Perhaps most shocking was the way Bisping afforded himself in the clinch. He held his own when Sonnen tried to muscle in close to him and even controlled some of the action when they locked up against the chain link -- though not as much as the UFC broadcast team would have you believe, especially in the first round.
Heck, some observers even thought Bisping won the bout, though a second viewing of the fight confirms that a 29-28 verdict in favor of Sonnen was probably the right one. In the end, the American eked out Rounds 2 and 3, though in total the fight was far closer than his unanimous decision win might otherwise let on. That one judge scored it 30-27 for Sonnen even seems unconscionable, as Bisping clearly controlled the second stanza.
All told, it was a great performance from a guy who has been dogged by skeptics and naysayers ever since winning Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show back in 2006. Even in defeat, Bisping moved up two slots on the ESPN.com middleweight Power Rankings -- from No. 8 to No. 6 -- and now appears well positioned to take on another high-caliber opponent in his next fight.
Perhaps a returning Mark Munoz (No. 4) might even make sense for him, after the man originally slated to meet Sonnen at this event returns from a minor elbow injury. If not Munoz, then maybe the winner of fifth-ranked Yushin Okami’s upcoming UFC 144 tangle with Tim Boetsch or newly minted Top 10er Chris Weidman, who debuted at No. 9 this week after turning in Saturday night’s second-best showing by defeating Demian Maia on short notice.
We are often told there is no such thing as a good loss, but Bisping puts that adage to the test this week. While he overachieved, Sonnen, Maia, Rashad Evans and Phil Davis -- much like the overall UFC broadcast itself -- didn’t quite live up to our expectations.