For the first time since January 2008, all the way back to UFC 80, a UFC title will be contested in England. At that point, BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson were squaring off for the vacant lightweight title. It’s safe to assume that the crowd in Manchester will be much more invested on Saturday night when the first-ever British UFC champion, Michael Bisping, makes the first defense of his middleweight title in a grudge match against legend Dan Henderson. Bisping was the reason the UFC had such a big presence in the UK during the late aughts, as he was the first fighter from the area to really make an impact towards the top of a UFC division. Had it not been for the lone trip the promotion had made to Royal Albert Hall for UFC 38, Bisping would have been the reason the Octagon even broke into England. For nearly a decade, it seemed the Bisping would merely be the first top quality British fighter in the UFC, as he failed to break through for a shot at the middleweight title on multiple occasions. Most famously, he was knocked out by Dan Henderson at UFC 100 in devastating fashion. However, 2015 saw Bisping gain some traction in the division with wins over CB Dollaway and Thales Leites. He would then get his long awaited chance to face Anderson Silva, defeating the former champion via decision after nearly being stopped in the fight. That would all lead to Bisping being in a position to step in for Chris Weidman on just over two weeks notice to face Luke Rockhold (who previously held a victory over him) for the UFC middleweight title. Shockingly, Bisping knocked Rockhold out in the first round to become champion at 37 years old. With some injuries, controversial decisions and drug tests muddling the contenders at 185, Bisping will get the opportunity to both defend his belt and avenge his loss to Henderson in the main event of UFC 204. Henderson has only won three of his past nine fights, but coming off a win that saw him become the first man to knock out Hector Lombard, the story between the 46-year-old and Bisping was too good to pass up. The co-main event features another middleweight clash, as Vitor Belfort takes on Gegard Mousasi. Belfort has defeated both Bisping and Henderson (twice) in recent years, but he has also been stopped in the first round in two of his past three bouts. Mousasi has gotten himself back into contention in 2016, putting together a pair of wins over Thiago Santos and Thales Leites after being stopped in highlight reel fashion by Uriah Hall. Betting odds have already been released for the top two fights on the card. Bisping is favored to retain his title against Henderson. The Brit opened a -240 favorite (bet $240 to win $100) with the comeback on Henderson at +180 (bet $100 to win $180), and the line has remained relatively still ever since. Mousasi is favored to extend his winning streak, as he opened -350 over Belfort (+250). The line has tightened 10 cents on each fighter since opening. The final fight with odds currently features English fighter Jimi Manuwa, who is a +135 underdog to former light heavyweight title challenger Ovince Saint-Preux (-155). The main card was also supposed to feature prospects Arnold Allen and Mirsad Bektic, but Allen (and his replacement Jeremy Kennedy) was forced out with injury. The final PPV bout is a heavyweight contest between Stefan Struve and Daniel Omielanczuk. All but one of the preliminary fights features an English fighter as well, which could give the fans plenty to cheer for leading up to the main event. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting odds for UFC 204 today at Several Bookmakers. Take a look: ——————– MAIN CARD (Pay-Per-View, 10pm ET)
——————– PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1, 8pm ET)
——————– Main Card (Updated) Pay-per-view – 10 PM ET Russell Doane +435 Mirsad Bektic -705 Over 2.5 -130 Under 2.5 -110 – Preliminary Card UFC Fight Pass – 6:30 PM ET Danny Roberts -135 Mike Perry -105 Over 1.5 -130 Under 1.5 -110 – Adriano Martins -350 Leonardo Santos +250 Over 1.5 -185 Under 1.5 +145 – Marc Diakiese -185 Lukasz Sajewski +145 Over 2.5 -175 Under 1.5 +135 – ——————– Brad’s Analysis: Omielanczuk isn’t a big hitter, but he’ll likely need to put Struve away to win this fight. If Omielanczuk was able to keep this fight on the feet for 15 minutes, he could win as well, but his proclivity for falling into the clinch could prove troublesome in that pursuit. Struve’s height makes him a surprisingly effective (and underrated) wrestler from that position, and Omielanczuk has weak takedown defense to begin with. If this turns into a grappling match, Struve has the advantage, so Omielanczuk needs to stay at range against a much longer fighter for 15 minutes without falling into the clinch. That’s a lot to ask for any heavyweight. If we’re continuing the trend of being honest, Pickett has lost his last four fights. He’s had a couple of bright moments during that span, but he’s generally shown the same poor defense as always, which has been exacerbated by his physical decline. Pickett may be able fall back on his wrestling here — as he is one of the very few British fighters who you wouldn’t know is British by watching him wrestle — as Alcantara can be lazy about his defense, but I have to think the dynamic game of the Brazilian gets through on the feet enough to take a decision. Pickett has been known to get some bad decisions though, and at home that could be a factor. Entwistle gets the leg lock early or quits and loses. Although anyone can get caught by a leg lock, Font should be good enough to avoid it. He wins. By stoppage. That said, I could see this being the spot where everyone just looks at Entwistle as the one-dimensional leg lock guy and bets up his opponent way too high and then Font potentially gets caught. Grant and Stasiak could put on a fun grappling battle, or a really bad striking battle. I don’t think either fighter truly has the desire or skill set to keep this on the feet should the other pursue a takedown. Once they hit the ground, I think the fight is evenly matched, although I found it surprising that Grant wasn’t able to have more success on the ground against Marlon Vera than he did. I expect Grant to be a bit overpriced here, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pull the trigger on Stasiak. One of the best bouts on the card, Edwards and Tumenov should be the exact opposite of Grant and Stasiak. Both have struggled when they’ve faced grapplers but beaten anyone willing to strike with them. Tumenov has the higher level competition and wins, but Edwards could give him trouble as a slightly longer southpaw. In the end, I think that Tumenov is more used to fighting dangerous strikers and at a higher pace, which should lead him to victory. However, Edwards does have more one-punch power out of the two, which could equalize things. At some point, Perry is going to struggle with a really technical fighter, but I don’t think Roberts is it. That’s not to say Roberts can’t win this fight. He’s a big hitter and has a sneaky submission game, but I feel like Perry can lure him into a slugfest on the feet. If that’s the case, I’ve seen Perry do more damage in a short period of time, while Roberts has looked quite hittable in some of his fights. Perry would be a play if I could get him in the +140 or higher range, but I won’t bother around even money as I do think Roberts is the more skilled overall fighter. Santos is a guy that I picked (and bet) against versus Efrain Escudero, and almost won, and yet somehow he’s still undefeated in the UFC. It absolutely blows my mind that those two things can exist within the same fighter. Hopefully that undefeated UFC record means we can get a discount on Martins against him, because this has to be the time Santos gets beaten, right? Perhaps Santos has a slight advantage in pure BJJ, but Martins is no slouch and a vastly superior wrestler here, so I think that negates even the slightest path to victory for Santos. It’s getting hard to bet against this guy, but on the other hand, Martins has been a money train in the UFC, so I have no problem backing him once again if the number isn’t too high. Through two fights, it seems to me that Sajewski is tough, but simply not quite athletic or skilled enough to compete at the UFC level. It’s hard to speak for the skill at this point, but Diakiese is definitely athletic and explosive enough to compete in the UFC, but he’s also been able to show an ability to manage his cardio in the past if need be, and even grind some opponents out. Sajewski has eaten some shots so far in the UFC, but nothing on the level of what Diakiese will hit him with. Still, it’s nice to know that the Englishman can go 15 if need be, and I think he makes good in his UFC debut.