LONDON ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16: Michael Bisping of Great Britain lands a punch on Yoshihiro Akiyama of Japan during their UFC middleweight bout at the O2 Arena on October 16 2010 in London England. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Despite it's earnest efforts to produce one, the UFC's coveted British champion seems as distant as ever following UFC 120. Dan Hardy (23-8), fresh off a blowout loss to welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre, disrespected the striking of Carlos Condit (26-5) and found himself gazing at the lights with a first-round knockout defeat. Britain's Next Great Hope, young John Hathaway (14-1), also lost in the 170lb division via the smothering grappling of mid-tier veteran Mike Pyle (21-7-1). It was an ugly decision victory for Kyle, who notched the first blemish on the record of the young and very hyped Hathaway.
In the main event of the evening, Michael Bisping (20-3) ate stiff power shots from Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-3) en route to a clear, if rather pedestrian, decision victory. Bisping was the lone hometown star to score a win on the main card, yet it did little to provide any evidence he might be a worthy contender for the middleweight title. As for the two defeated welterweights, last night indicated that their reputations are largely fluff. It's even more apparent now that Hardy was unworthily thrown into a title fight, and Hathaway is still years away from adequately improving the poorer aspects of his game (takedown defense, counterstriking, activity off his back).
Bisping continues to prove how far ahead of the division Anderson Silva remains despite a fairly comfortable win against the judoka Akiyama. After a first round in which Akiyama landed multiple power punches, Bisping settled into a rhythm and delivered a Klitchsko-esque performance, using his reach and staying active to land solid combinations. His conditioning was far superior to Akiyama's, who was totally flat-footed and had dropped his guard by Round 3. Still, Akiyama was able to frequently land flailing power shots on Bisping due to the Brit's stiff defensive posture and propensity to neglect lateral movement in heavy exchanges.
Bisping is largely the same fighter we've seen for the past two years, and I think that is a severe indictment of the training centers to which Britain's top fighters are beholden. He has numerous bad habits he either refuses to or cannot shake: the aforementioned stiffness; circling into his opponents' power hand; diving in for takedowns that eliminate his reach advantage and expose him to short power punches. He's been able to get away with these flaws against mid-tier opponents such as Dan Miller, Denis Kang, and barely against Akiyama. Against fighters who can consistently break through his reach advantage, however, he will always struggle.
Furthermore, it's obvious that Britain's top MMA camps have left John Hathaway - in last night's fight - and Dan Hardy - in his previous two fights - woefully unprepared for mixed martial artists with prowess in more than one facet of fighting. Hathaway looked helpless off his back and Hardy thought his boxing would trounce the well-rounded Condit. Neither of them provided the raucous London crowd anything worth cheering. TUF Winner James Wilks (7-4) didn't even have his fight aired (despite being on the main card) after dropping a unanimous decision to Claude Patrick (13-1).
The UFC has pushed British fighters to the top of the company in a concerted effort to produce an elite star from the nation, a replica of Georges St. Pierre from across the pond. No matter how Dana White spins it, there can be no doubt that the British MMA talent cultivated via The Ultimate Fighter (Ross Pearson, James Wilks, take your pick) are far from elite, and camps such as Woflslair, Team Roughhouse, and London Shootfighters aren't molding the Bispings and the Hardys and the Paul Daleys of the world into anything resembling championship material. If Dana White expects a British fighter to rise to the top of the UFC anytime soon, he's even more delusional than I've previously thought.