UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs Gastelum
November 25, 2017 | Shanghai, China
Fight Pass Main Card: 7AM/10AM ET|PT
Fight Pass Prelims: 3:45AM/6:45AM ET|PT
Sometimes a card comes along that just sneaks in under the radar. Perhaps it’s hidden on UFC Fight Pass and lacks the might of a major broadcasting company to boost it. In fact, it may start at 3 a.m. while you’re still happily asleep in your bed. It may not be chock full of big names. It may come in sandwiched between an endless slog of other subpar events. It may even have had its biggest star pulled off the card due to his second positive test for performance enhancing drugs.
Was that too specific? Perhaps that is because all of those criteria apply to UFC Shanghai. But let me let you on a little secret: This is actually a really, really good card. A card full of relevant match ups and incredible fights. Fighters making their UFC debut that regularly display the type of artistry in combat reserved for Jet Li films will test the limits of their art, and there are even some unknowns that could prove to be championship material down the line.
So, without further ado, let’s break out the popcorn and look into what awaits us at the top of this sleeper card.
Welterweight Bout — 3 Rounds
Muslim Salikhov (13-1) vs. Alex Garcia (14-4)
Now if you don’t watch this event for any other reason, tune in to see Muslim Salikhov, one of the most decorated Sanshou fighters to ever live. He has won every world championship in Sanda between 2005 and 2015 (except in 2013, when he won silver).
He has what a lot of kung fu practitioners lack, which is a very dangerous boxing game driven by great head movement and footwork that only serves to make his jaw dropping kicks even harder to defend against. His counters have ended in knockouts so violent I was honestly afraid he killed a man. His only career MMA loss was by rear naked choke in his third fight, an understandable slip up in what can be a very difficult transition. Four of his last five fights were knockouts from spin kicks, and eleven of his fourteen wins have all come by knockout.
While Muslim is an exciting prospect, Alex Garcia is at a crossroad. Garcia came into the UFC a hot prospect in his own right, but has alternated wins and losses over his last six fights, his last match a disappointing loss to Tim Means. “The Dominican Nightmare” needs to make a statement here or risk getting cut.
Garcia is built like a comic book character and has unreal strength and power until his muscles inevitably fill with blood and he starts to slow down. His boxing has made huge leaps over his last few fights, but his footwork still leaves a lot to be desired. He kicks like a horse when he wants to but generally sticks to his hands. He uses his strength to muscle people to the floor, but often has trouble doing real work from the top.
The big question here is whether or not Garcia, who has legitimate takedowns, will be able to get them going early against Salikhov, who is still only a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and if Salikhov will be able to get back to his feet if he’s brought to the canvas. Garcia has terrifying power in the first frame, and if the Sanda master makes a mistake early Garcia may just remove his head from his body. But Salikhov seems to be defensively sound, and that midsection of Garcia is just asking to get blasted with a spinning back kick.
Unless the Dominican really commits to his kicks, and blends his strikes and shots together in a way he hasn’t yet, he will get chewed apart on the feet. His best chance is simply committing to forward pressure and his wrestling, but if he doesn’t finish, that gameplan will get harder and harder to implement as he tires.
Winner: Muslim SSalikho by KO, Round 2.
Featherweight Bout — 3 Rounds
Alex Caceres (24-10-1) vs. Guan Wang (14-1)
Another Sanda fighter making his debut, Guan Wang is a lanky 5-foot-11 and brings real power to the featherweight division. With a tendency to wing his punches and get sloppy with his strikes, he is not nearly the picture perfect striker that Malikhov is, but when he gets in the zone he can unleash gorgeous combinations that quickly leave opponents lolling on the floor. His takedown defense leaves a lot of room for improvement, and his ground work looks to be basic at best.
Wang is facing another tall featherweight in Alex Caceres. Whereas Wang often looks to be forcing his punches, Caceres really fights looser than just about any other fighter on the UFC roster. His strikes flow out with no warning and have superb placement. He likes to vary his attack between many different kicks, elbows and punches that land wherever you aren’t defending. He has underrated grappling and is more than capable of finishing a fighter on the ground. Caceres has continually found himself on the losing end against better competition. As good as he is on offense, he has little care defensively, both on the ground and on the feet, and he can have trouble forcing his fight when the opponent doesn’t concede to it.
This one will be very interesting. If “Bruce Leeroy” decides he wants to keep it on the feet, this will be a highly entertaining scrap in which he will likely still have the edge. More likely though, he takes it where he should have a sizable advantage and puts Wang to sleep.
Winner: Alex Caceres by submission, Round 1.
Welterweight Bout — 3 Rounds
Zak Ottow (19-4) vs. Li Jingliang (13-4)
A swarming boxer who has knocked out three of his last five opponents, Jingliang is looking to make a statement here in front of his hometown crowd. With a chin of iron, “The Leech” strides right into danger with sharp counter uppercuts and savage hooks and overhands that fire off in dizzying combinations. Sharp low kicks wear down his opponent when they aren’t content brawling in the center of the cage with him. Like any brawler, he can be countered, but even if you hit him expect a fist to come flying right back in return. A brown belt in jiu-jitsu, he’s quite capable of defending himself on the ground as well.
Zak Ottow is much more reserved and, while willing to lead, is really at his best countering on the outside. He makes up for his slower style with an aptitude at picking his shots well, and he confuses opponents by constantly switching stances and slamming home low kicks relentlessly. He is also a brown belt, and 10 of his 15 wins came by submission.
This is another fantastic matchup. The hometown favorite will try to drown his man in strikes, and Ottow will have every chance to play his best game and counter. The wild card component here will be the grappling. Whoever can get the other on edge and worried about the takedown will have an advantage implementing their style. Ottow could use it to slow the game down, and Jingliang can use the threat of the takedown to nullify the American’s counters. This one is an absolute toss-up and should be a great fight.
Winner: Li Jingliang by decision, Round 3.
Middleweight Bout — 5 Rounds
#2 Michael Bisping (31-8) vs. #9 Kelvin Gastelum (14-3)
Gastelum is an elite welterweight with what must be an unhealthy addiction to bacon wrapped donuts; he wasn’t even big at 170 pounds but failed to make weight three times. If he was still at welterweight he may have already won the belt, and there is no question he is one of the most talented fighters in the UFC. He has a crisp jab and crazy power in both hands. He closes distance with uncanny speed and mixes up his strikes beautifully. His wrestling is top notch.
What has been interesting about seeing him fight at middleweight is that while the elite grapplers have often been able to use that size difference to control him, he has actually used his shortness to his advantage. With incredible head movement, he has been able to force fighters to punch down on him and make them miss, getting inside their reach and countering their shots with his shorter arms. He has excellent footwork and is faster than maybe anyone else at middleweight right now, and even against larger men he still retains knockout power.
Bisping, let’s be clear, should not be allowed to fight. He has been approved to fight within his medical suspension, and therefore should not be training, which of course he will be. He took some real punishment against St-Pierre, and it just goes to show how little the UFC really cares about fighter safety. He is a great fighter, but he looks to be the slower one here, and the one with less power. Despite having the size advantage, Gastelum still looks to be the better wrestler, and in fact he may be able to use his lower center of gravity to pull off his takedowns.
Gastelum should be able to keep up with Bisping as long as he paces himself and puts in body work, and the quick turnaround might hurt Bisping’s legendary cardio. Bisping often reaches with his shots, and Gastelum is excellent at abusing just that sort of behavior by leaping in with heavy counters.
So, maybe you see where I’m going with this one? Bisping still has a reach advantage, still is a dangerous striker, still should have the better endurance and is not to be counted out.
Fighting so soon after a vicious loss, though, is never a good thing. Not being able to use his size to wrestle Gastelum and tire him out is a problem too. Did I mention he’s never been exceptional against good pressure fighters? There’s also a real question here about who wants this more, and what seems to be a fairly evident answer to that question as well.
Is the former middleweight champion really going to be beaten by two welterweights in a row? Yes. Yes he is.
Winner: Gastelum by TKO, Round 3.
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