MANCHESTER – Mixed martial arts fans around the world were treated to two defining moments in the sport's history early this morning as UFC Middleweight Champion, Michael Bisping defended his title in front of a raucous and partisan crowd against the MMA legend, Dan Henderson who remained true to his vow that he will be hanging up his gloves for good.
The former two-time Pride Champ and Strikeforce champion may have won the fight in some people's eyes, but it has been his dedication to the world of combat sport that has won him more respect and adulation than his many accolades.
It was a classic slugfest in which the Californian veteran knocked Bisping down twice in the first two rounds and followed up with a series of vicious ground strikes that left the hometown favourite a bloody mess who despite the concussions was able to weather the storm and hold on for both bells.
Throughout the fight, Bisping was the busier man with an evident game plan of forward pressure denying Henderson the space with which to wing his infamous swinging hooks.
The 46-year-old began to visibly tire by the third round with the Brits jab setting up his right hand nicely with good head movement and varied leg kicks which he employed to disguise his boxing combinations.
Henderson however remain dangerous to the end knowing that the fifth round was key in the eyes of the judges and he came out for the last round of his professional career continuing to search for the knockout. By this point Bisping's eyes were both swollen shut but he still had enough gas in the tank to continue his wily offence and stay out of Henderson's thunderous range.
The home crowd cheered the judges' decision that has already split opinions among the cognoscenti and the ignorant alike, and even though I gave rounds 3, 4 and 5 to the local lad, I had Henderson 10-8 for the first round and therefore scored the fight as a draw.
This was an opinion he echoed in his post-event interview and went on to discuss the fight and his possible career path and the future of MMA.
Those who complain about the decision need to rather petition the governing bodies about scoring systems instead of berating fighters who leave it all in the cage and have no choice but to fight within the rules of the sport.
The history of fighting is a truly unsentimental one and Henderson's career has finished without ever having secured a UFC title yet it is the duty of arbiters sitting cage-side to be writing objective scorecards and not Hollywood dramas with Disney endings.
In his post-fight interview however, Henderson wrote his own script: “I appreciate all the support throughout the years, worldwide. I gave my heart and soul to this sport, and fans like you, even though you booed me at the beginning of the night, made it worthwhile for me to keep competing year after year. I absolutely love the sport. And I want to say thank you to the fans for making this fight happen and thank you to Bisping for giving me this opportunity. My last fight for a belt I came up a little short, but not bad for an old man."
Even though the curtain has fallen on a pioneering career of the sport, and it was a true honour to be sitting cage side at his last fight, this was Bisping's day.
Retaining his belt in his hometown against the man who famously knocked him out seven years ago prompted a heartfelt outpouring of relief and emotion with the understanding that he had achieved something quite special.
"Of course, Dan Henderson hits hard and he opened up a couple of big cuts on my face. But I feel completely fine, I remember everything about the fight. The crowd were amazing. I could hear the energy from the fans throughout the entire event. I want to thank them all for showing so much energy, it was incredible. I felt that. Big respect to Dan Henderson. He’s a legend of the sport and I want to say well done to him. It’s amazing what he’s achieved in this sport and to be able to fight at this level, and bring it like that, at his age – I just have massive respect for him. Now I look forward to the next one. I’ve still got the belt, I’m still the champion and I’m very happy. It was close but it’s never easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it. Until the next time. God bless England."
Bisping now awaits his next challenger and may not need to look any further than Gegard Mousasi, one of the coolest guys on the entire UFC roster who looked outstanding in the co-main event, finishing Vitor Belfort in the second by TKO.
The divisional implications of the middleweight division are delicious at the moment with Weidman, Souza and Rockhold all prospecting for gold and one thing is for sure, as they were early this morning in Manchester, the fans are the ones who remain the real winners.