One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Tim Kennedy, who squares off with a returning Michael Bisping at The Ultimate Fighter: Nations Finale in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada on April 16.

This fight will serve as the main event for the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Nations reality show that was coached by Canada’s Patrick Cote and Australia’s Kyle Noke. Given that both of the coaches are fit, healthy and ready to fight as the co-main event on this card, it seems to be a vote of no confidence in their ability to headline an event. This is especially the case given that the whole premise of the show is Australia versus Canada and yet here we are with an American going up against a Brit in the main event in Canada.

Nevertheless, this lack of faith in the coaches has left us with a returning Bisping and a vocal Kennedy as the headliner in what is a key fight in the middleweight division.

Bisping has been out for some time with a detached retina that required him to wear an eye patch as a protective measure. Going into this fight, there will be the obvious question marks against his ability to both see with the eye and take punishment to it. For any human being, their eyes are a crucial part of their ability to live life. But for a fighter, their eyes need to be as sharp as possible so they can pick up their opponent’s slightest movements in order to predict what might be thrown next.

Bisping has not fought since his victory over Alan Belcher at UFC 159 just under a year ago. During that time, just about every viable middleweight contender has called him out in some shape or form. As such, his comeback fight could have been against pretty much anyone inside the top 10.

Kennedy, though, has become a vocal part of the middleweight division in terms of both who he wants to fight and the compensation he deserves for those efforts. This attitude meant he was not met with such a warm welcome by UFC officials following his crossover from Strikeforce, but he seems to have shifted his verbal jabs towards his opponents in a face-saving effort. He is a man that has built his image on the back of his military background, which doesn’t mesh well with his consistent verbal attacks on his opponent.

Both men currently reside in the top 10 of the UFC’s official rankings, and with good reason. Bisping sits comfortably at No. 5, knowing that a win here could put him into yet another title eliminator fight. He has fallen at the last hurdle on a couple of occasions previously, however. Kennedy, meanwhile, falls in just behind Bisping at No. 8 and sees an opportunity to leapfrog into the top five with a win in Quebec.

Whilst the decision to place them in the main event on this card might be strange, there can be no doubt that this fight does have serious implications for the future of a middleweight division now rejuvenated by a fresh champion for the challengers to chase.

The Breakdown

Bisping’s style is often underrated, largely because his power is not considered concussive. However, his style relies upon a barrage of punches taking their toll on his opponent, and his record would suggest that this is a strategy that rarely fails him.

Kennedy has provided a mixed bag throughout his career with knockouts, submissions and a steady amount of decision victories. His cardio is a weapon that he uses to good effect by trying to drown his opponent with a fast pace.

There can be no doubt that Kennedy will come prepared given he is under the tutelage of one Greg Jackson, who is known for his game-planning prowess. What’s more, Jackson will be well-versed in preparing for Bisping. He was in the corner of Rashad Evans when Evans handed Bisping his first professional loss and subsequently was in the corner of another Armed Forces veteran, Brian Stann, who ultimately came up short against the Brit.

The Strategy

Bisping’s general strategy relies upon clever footwork and punching in combinations before moving out of range. In this fight, I would expect nothing different from him, although the long layoff could play a factor in his comfort level in the early going.

Kennedy must look to put the pressure on Bisping if he is to find any success. Kennedy cannot let Bisping get comfortable in there. His best bet is to try to push Bisping backwards so as to not give him the space to work and move that he often relies upon.

Whilst Bisping has the technical edge on the feet, it would be a mistake on Kennedy’s part to assume that Bisping’s wrestling and submissions are a weakness he can look to exploit. During his fight with Chael Sonnen, Bisping’s defensive wrestling held up admirably against a fighter who is perhaps second only to Ben Askren in winning fights by imposing his smothering style of wrestling upon his opponent.

Therefore, if Kennedy is going to work for a takedown, his best bet in being successful in getting the fight to the ground would be from up against the cage following a period of sustained pressure or from catching a leg kick.

Overall, Kennedy certainly has a sizeable task in front of him, but it would seem to be one he is confident of overcoming and he has talked himself into a corner from which he must come out strong. If Kennedy can force Bisping backwards, he may well be the stronger man against the cage and could rely upon knees and the classic Randy Couture dirty-boxing style to control Bisping and not allow him to develop a rhythm in his striking that has proven so effective in the past.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.