Author: By Guy Adams in Las Vegas
More than 300 million, in 76 countries, watched a showdown that had transfixed
prize-fighting?s first city, notching-up 1.2 million $45 pay-per-view sales
in the US alone, and helping a pair of ringside tickets to the Mandalay
Bay?s sold-out arena change hands for a recession-busting $45,000
Yet when the hopes of the travelling British fans were finally dashed, it
wasn?t a plucky Ricky Hatton, or Frank Bruno, who was smeared indignantly
across the canvas. And they weren?t looking out across one of the floodlight
boxing rings that have for years hosted combat sport?s greatest match-ups.
Instead, the unfortunate fighter knocked clean out, one and a half rounds into
the biggest fight of his career was a 29-year-old former carpet fitter from
Clitheroe called Michael Bisping. And his scene of his demise was
eight-sided cage described by the night?s theatrical announcer as The
Bisping is our nation?s leading mixed martial artist. And on Saturday, his
middleweight battle with Dan Henderson was one of the leading draws at UFC
100, a totemic milestone in the extraordinary evolution of “MMA”
from blood-and-sawdust freak-show into a mainstream, blue-chip 21st century
In a little over a decade, the pursuit once known as cage-fighting has morphed
into a staggeringly-popular test of athleticism, skill and raw brutality. It
marries the best of ju-jitso, Greco-Roman wrestling, taekwondo, kickboxing,
and traditional boxing – and boasts hundreds of millions of devoted fans.
The sport?s rise has turned leading promoter UFC into a multinational company
recently estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $1 billion. It is now seen
by many sporting pundits ? who give it more space than boxing in some US
newspapers ? as a threat to the future of traditional pugilism.
TV audiences alone helped UFC make $200 million last year, and eight of the
ten most watched pay-per-view events, in any sport, including boxing, were
promoted by UFC. That’s before you even consider advertising: lkast night?s
event attracted blue chip sponsorship form firms like Budweiser and Harley
Davidson, keen to tap into its edgy, young demographic.
The extraordinary growth has made millionaires of fighters like Bisping, who
four years ago was sleeping in his car, as he criss-crossed Britain to
fight, for tiny purses, at leisure centres and nightclubs in places like
Eldon and Purfleet. Today, he is close to a household name in America,
starring in reality TV shows, video games. His is even the subject of a
Yet commercial success counts for nothing when you?re forced to go toe-to-toe
over three five-minute rounds against a man with the reputation, experience,
and raw ferocity of Henderson, a two-time former US Olympic Greco-Roman
wrestler who is regarded as one of the legendary figures in mixed martial
Bisping came into the bout with a career record of 17 wins and just one loss,
but with a question mark over his ability to handle top calibre opponents.
Victory would have teed-up a world middleweight title fight on his home turf
of the MEN arena in Manchester, against Brazil?s Anderson Silva, widely
regarded as the world?s best pound-for-pound fighter.
Bisping also came with a plan. He wanted to avoid being drawn into a wrestling
match with Henderson, an acknowledged master of that art, and instead hide
behind his precise left hand and nimble defensive work to jab his way to a
But from the opening bell he looked nervy and in danger of being swamped. And
after taking a few ominous shots in the first round, he walked into a
haymaker of a right hook that rendered him instantly unconscious after three
minutes twenty seconds of the second.
It was followed, in the moments after he?d crashed to the blood-soaked canvas,
with another right to the jaw, which had all of Henderson?s 185 pound
bodyweight behind it. After the referee had stopped the fight, he lay on his
back, immobile for a worrying two minutes.
Bisping ended the night being rushed to Valley hospital in Las Vegas for a CAT
scan, and in some quarters, his opponent?s eagerness to deliver the
potentially-dangerous and certainly un-necessary second blow attracted
There?s no love lost between the two fighters, and Bisping’s colourful jibes
had succeded in publicly riling Henderson in the run-up to the fight. After
his victory, the American fighter admitted: ?I know when a fighter?s out. I
knew he was out when I [first] hit him. That [second punch] one was just to
shut him up a bit.?
Later, the stylish Canadian Georges St Pierre retained his welterweight title
on points after a technical masterclass against Brazilian Thiago Alves.
Brock Lesnar, a former WWE wrestler, demonstrated his mastery of the
heavyweight division delivered a textbook display of savage thuggery to stop
Frank Mir a minute and a half into the second round.
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