The octagon arrives in the Land of the Rising Sun for the very first time as the UFC hosts its maiden event in mainland China with a fascinating middleweight clash at the top of the card.
With few household names on the fight card, and with the event taking place on Chinese primetime, this one really is one for the hardcores… or those looking to find a little betting value.
Here’s our quickfire guide to everything you need to know ahead of Saturday’s show on UFC Fight Pass.
The Main Event: Michael Bisping vs Kelvin Gastelum
When former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva popped for banned substances in a recent USADA drug test, he was pulled from his main event clash with rising contender Kelvin Gastelum, presenting a matchmaking headache for the UFC.
Step forward another former world champion. Michael Bisping is so keen to remove the pain of his submission defeat to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217 that he’s agreed to step in at just two weeks’ notice to fight the hard-hitting Gastelum in a brand new main event.
|Bisping vs Gastelum||To Win||By Stoppage||By Decision|
Despite being the higher-ranked fighter, Bisping heads into the bout in the all-too-familiar role of underdog. The bookies not only expect the Brit to lose to Gastelum, their odds suggest he’s likely to get finished inside the distance, too.
Not that it’ll be any concern to Bisping, however. This is a man who stepped into a world title fight on two weeks’ notice against a man who dominated him in their first encounter, then proceeded to knock him out clean inside three-and-a-half minutes to capture the UFC world title last summer.
— Simon Head (@simonhead) June 5, 2016
What’s at stake?
For Bisping, this is an exercise in cleansing his soul. After he lost his title to St-Pierre in New York earlier this month, he came away believing he didn’t deliver the performance he’d prepared for. And after only a few days sitting on the couch with his family, the itch to fight again came back. Now the 38-year-old is taking this short-notice opportunity to prove to the world – and himself – that he still has it.
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) November 16, 2017
For Gastelum, it’s an opportunity to claim a big-name scalp as he plots his route toward the UFC’s 185 lb title. After issues with the scale as a welterweight, he reluctantly moved up to middleweight where he’s looked outstanding despite being comparatively undersized for the division. Coming into the bout on the back of a submission loss to one former champion–-
Chris Weidman – victory over another former champion (Bisping) will move him one big step closer to the belt.
Keys to victory
For Bisping, it’s a case of rinse and repeat from his past successes. His movement, kickboxing from range and legendary gas tank have carried him to many a victory in the UFC. He’s also arguably, pound-for-pound, the toughest man to ever pull on a set of UFC gloves, and he’s fought through adversity on countless occasions to get his hand raised. He may well need to do the same again in Shanghai to pick up the W this weekend.
Gastelum holds the two key attributes that could cause Bisping the biggest trouble: wrestling and punch power. Bisping has been rocked and finished with strikes in the past, and with Gastelum arguably one of the hardest hitters in the UFC’s middleweight division, the rising prospect has the tools to score a knockout/TKO finish. If he uses his wrestling early to keep Bisping on his toes, then fakes a takedown and goes upstairs with heavy shots, he could catch the former champion and pick up the biggest scalp of his career.
OUR MAIN EVENT PICK
This is a trickier pick than usual because you’re not just considering the relative merits of the two fighters involved. You also have to factor in the physical condition of Bisping heading into this bout.
If we were convinced Bisping was 100 percent healthy, we’d have no hesitation in backing the Brit to get the win here, but given the Brit was badly rocked by St-Pierre just a couple of weeks ago, there’s a real concern he hasn’t had enough time to recover before jumping back into the octagon again – especially against a power puncher like Gastelum.
With that in mind, there’s a strong temptation to take Gastelum to win inside the distance at -144 (5Dimes, SportBet). But I’ve watched Bisping overcome adversity too many times to count him out here.
The circumstances surrounding his call-up to this fight have meant that he’s an outstanding value pick, with 5Dimes and SportBet both offering +425 for the former champion to take the victory by decision.
And, with Bisping in fight shape and super motivated to rebound from his last performance, plus his size, experience and cardio advantages over a five-round bout, picking “The Count” makes the most sense here if we’re seeking the best main event value.
© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The Fight Card
Main Card (Live on UFC Fight Pass)
|Michael Bisping||Kelvin Gastelum||Middleweight bout|
|Li Jingliang||Zak Ottow||Welterweight bout|
|Wang Guan||Alex Caceres||Featherweight bout|
|Muslim Salikhov||Alex Garcia||Welterweight bout|
Preliminary Card (Live on UFC Fight Pass)
|Zabit Magomedsharipov||Sheymon Moraes||Featherweight bout|
|Kenan Song||Bobby Nash||Welterweight bout|
|Kailin Curran||Yan Xiaonan||Women’s strawweight bout|
|Pingyuan Liu||Bharat Khandare||Bantamweight bout|
|Chase Sherman||Shamil Abdurakhimov||Heavyweight bout|
|Yanan Wu||Gina Mazany||Women’s Bantamweight bout|
|Wuliji Buren||Rolando Dy||Featherweight bout|
|Cyril Asker||Yaozong Hu||Heavyweight bout|
The Men Most Likely…
…to produce a jaw-dropping spinning kick KO: Muslim Salikhov
The five-time wushu sanda world champion has finished his last NINE opponents inside the distance, with four of his last five stopped by spectacular spinning kicks. He’s set to make his UFC debut against veteran Alex Garcia, and you won’t want to blink. Salikhov is -139 (5Dimes, SportBet) to win inside the distance for good reason.
…to win on Saturday, then challenge for a world title in 2018: Zabit Magomedsharipov
The Dagestani featherweight is 13-1 and riding a nine-fight win streak, with each of his last seven bouts finished inside the distance. At 6-foot-1, he’s huge for the weight class and is likely to be a serious title contender within the next 6-12 months. It would be a huge shock if he did anything other than finish his opponent Sheymon Moraes in Shanghai this weekend. He’s +140 (5Dimes, SportBet) to get the job done in less than a round and a half.
…to pick up a home win for the Chinese fans: Li Jingliang
The hard-as-nails Chinese welterweight went 1-2 in his early UFC career, but has since hit form, winning his last three, two by clean KO. He faces Zak Ottow in the co-main event, and could draw the biggest roar of the night if he extends his winning run to four in a row. It’s a distinct possibility, too, with the bookies pegging him as a narrow -172 (SportBet) favorite.
[Main image credit: © Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports / Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports]