It will be remembered as the biggest UFC main event ever to take place in England. On Saturday night at the O2 Arena, Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva proved that age was no limitation in their thrilling Middleweight spectacle.
A five round match-up which evoked every emotion imaginable, two men gave their everything in front of a patriotic London crowd, in a headline battle of severe magnitude long overdue for UK fans.
From Blur – Song 2 to DMX – No Sunshine, it was almost like day and night at the O2 as supporters welcomed countryman Bisping with open arms, whilst Silva seemingly played the role of the villain. The first round; for the majority, was highlighted by both men testing out their range, gauging their opponent’s movement – and so peaceful until. In the final seconds of the first, almost as if the realisation of the occasion had finally sunk in, Bisping landed with intent on Silva, wobbling the acclaimed greatest of all time. However the animosity of the fight was none more so personified by “The Spider” trying to embrace Bisping at the buzzer, only to be met by a shove from the hard nosed Brit.
Something detrimental to Anderson’s success over the years was his ability to use his venomous leg kicks to push opponents back, damage their lead leg which subsequently would wear them down – making it much tougher for them to last the full 25 minutes. However, since his broken fibula and tibia at the hands of Chris Weidmen at UFC 168, the Brazilian legend has looked a shadow of the man he once was. Maybe it is to do with his age (now 40) or even his 15 month lay-off from the sport, but the lingering thought remains that the mental aspect of the game played a huge part into Silva’s hesitation, still haunted by that gruesome December night in Las Vegas.
Although, a bit of the old Silva came out to play in the second round, the clowning and show-boating returned as he tried to unnerve a concentrated Bisping. At one point, whilst engaging with the Brit in the centre of the Octagon, Silva looked up and seemingly engaged in a conversation with his corner team, a moment of complete absurdity during one of the biggest fights of his career. It was one of the Brit’s most successfully rounds, landing 36% of his significant strikes (his highest percentage in the fight) and soon after Silva’s momentarily lapse of concentration, Bisping would make him pay. Once again Silva dropped his hands in an effort to goad his opponent forward, but Manchester’s Bisping would land two flush strikes to the chin of Silva, dropping the former Middleweight champion to a ferocious reaction from the English fans.
It was however the mid-way point of the match-up when chaos fell upon the O2 when a moment of confusion allowed Silva to land a clean flying knee to Bisping, dropping the Brit to the canvas in a lifeless motion. With around 15 second of the round left, the exchange started with Bisping dropping his mouth piece, Bisping then signalled referee Herb Dean to return it, but a slow reacting Dean allowed a lapse of focus for Bisping and Silva capitalised with a jaw crunching knee. The brutal manoeuvre came on the buzzer and it seemed momentarily that Bisping may have been unconscious. This wasn’t the case but he was visibly hurt. Chaos ensued as Silva was convinced he had won the fight, scaling the octagon and celebrating, wasting precious time as slowly, a dazed Bisping regained his senses. “The Spider” was back in the fight, the way it came about may be questioned but it seemed like the London main event was experiencing a momentum shift of massive proportions.
With less than enough time sufficient to recover from Silva’s attack, it was clear Bisping entered the fourth round in survival mode. It was all about surviving the Silva onslaughts until he could regain full composure – and I question if he ever did. As the fight progressed and Silva became more confident, even landing one of his renowned teep kicks; again stumbling his opponent, many thought that Bisping was running on borrowed time. However, the statistics don’t lie and although “The Count” had to deal with low volume and high density strikes from Silva, he continued to control the rounds. Silva was landing the higher percentage of his shots, 70% in round four and 54% in round five, but equally he was throwing much less than Bisping – who became the second fighter behind former Bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw to land 100 significant strikes in four separate showings.
The bout rightfully garnered Fight of the Night honours; as well as doing a superlative effort at securing at least a shortlist for the fight of the 2016, Bisping and Silva tore the roof off the O2 arena, solidifying both men’s status as two of the greatest to ever step foot into an Octagon.
For such a long time, Bisping’s contribution to the UFC have largely gone unrecognised, but after a monumental win on home soil against one of the greatest fighters of all time, his career now only lacks one final achievement – a UFC world championship. “The Count” is now riding a three fight win streak and could arguably be on the cusp of a long alluded title shot.
Of course, question marks remain about a potential return bout against Luke Rockhold, especially taking into account the fashion that the current UFC Middleweight title holder finished their fight back in November, 2014.
As for Anderson Silva, he finds himself in a territory of struggle. After his win against Nick Diaz at UFC 183 was overturned , Silva’s last registered victory took place in October, 2012, a finish against an over-the-hill Stephan Bonnar.
Hopes from Silva that he may once again rival a championship opportunity are all but dashed after his loss at UFC London, his legacy, thanks to one fateful night at the O2 may be restored to former glory.
As the final bell sang, it was visible that both had put everything they had on the line – leaving their legacy’s firmly intact inside the octagon. Coming into the bout, there were so many questions surrounding Silva and his blighted career after testing positive for banned substances last January, but alongside one of the UK’s own, for 25 minutes himself and Bisping had silenced the world and one fateful night in London was enough to cause shockwaves around the world as MMA fans showed their respect in unison for two of the greatest to ever grace the Octagon.
The O2 officially opened its doors in 2007 and has played host to countless sporting occasions during its time as one of the highest grossing arena’s in the world. However, in its near decade existence, the pandemonium and aura that emanated from its core on Saturday night remains unbeaten and will long be incomparable.
With everything that had been said in the build up of the fight, the wholehearted accusations from Bisping about Silva’s drug test failure, the final moment shared by both men in the Octagon on Saturday night, as they fell to their knees in a sign of ultimate respect for one and other, will long live in the memory of those fortunate few in attendance that night.
Regardless of the result, Bisping’s bloodied and battered face depicted in one shot what both men had narrated in 25 gruelling minutes. The British fans for so long had pined for a bout of enormity to be brought to these shores. On Saturday night, they were given that and so much more in one of the UK’s most euphoric fight ever.