Luke Rockhold’s base may be grappling, but his evolved kicking game allows him to fight at long range. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Luke Rockhold has emerged as one of the better offensive threats in MMA, with a hybrid attack of ferocious long-range striking combined with an excellent grappling base capable of exotic submissions. In a division that was long dominated by the pinpoint striking of Anderson Silva, the brevity of the Chris Weidman Era may just be a stopover along the way to a sustained Rockhold Reign.

His opponent this weekend, Michael Bisping, is a familiar face in MMA. He is largely credited with advancing mainstream awareness of MMA to the UK, long-before Irishman Conor McGregor upped the ante with his brashness. Bisping’s been a main-event mainstay, racking up 25 UFC appearances and likely earning an eventual spot in the UFC Hall of Fame when he retires. But the man who ranks first all-time in UFC with the most significant strikes landed has never had a title shot until now – thanks to a late injury to former champion Weidman. And while that may seem like a lucky break for Bisping, it may actually facilitate his retirement because of the tough matchup he faces at UFC 199.

That’s because Bisping has first-hand knowledge of Rockhold’s finishing skills, having been hurt by strikes and then finished by submission in their first fight. The odds are extreme, but so are the numbers in this matchup. And they clearly support Rockhold to remain the dominant champion at middleweight.

Traditional tale-of-the-tape metrics reveal a prototype champion in Rockhold, a rangy Southpaw still in his prime. But the performance metrics are also quite good in that he can combine a lot of offense while taking very little damage. Rockhold’s base may be grappling, but his evolved kicking game allows him to fight at long range, sometimes forcing damaged opponents back into his strength on the mat.


Rockhold scores highly in his high pace and ability to out-work opponents on the feet, as does Bisping. The difference is that Rockhold uses a high mix of kicks, which lowers his accuracy, but boosts the threat of power. And defensively, Rockhold is far more durable, having taken much less career damage, suffered only one career knockdown to date (to Vitor Belfort before the TRT ban), and also enjoying a six-year youth advantage over Bisping.

 


Bisping’s striking is sound, but he’s way too vulnerable at this point in his career to withstand powerful blows, and Rockhold’s finishing instinct is too tenacious. Rockhold could finish with a flurry of strikes as he did in his defeat of Weidman, or via submission with or without setting it up by strikes first.