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UFC 199: trash talk picks up before Rockhold-Bisping duel

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Rockhoold maintains a high opinion of himself, and critics wonder whether Manchesters Bisping can provide competition.

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When Dana White stands at a dais to promote the UFC, the organizations charismatic president tends to leave an impression.

On Thursday, he didnt mostly because it wasnt necessary.

As has become common among fighters engaged in the Octagon, a visceral lack of respect was on display at the beautifully restored Forum in Inglewood, California, which this weekend hosts the UFC for the first time in nearly 400 fight events at the building.

To the Whites right: champions Luke Rockhold and Dominick Cruz.

To the Whites left: challengers Michael Bisping and Urijah Faber.

Ready. Set. Go.

In the aftermath of Chael Sonnen and the midst of Conor McGregor, UFC fighters seem to let loose tirades designed to rile up fans as much as the person on the opposite side of the cage with regularity.

This can often be construed as insincere, yet the rampant hostility ahead of UFC 199 comes off as if its grounded in something more real than ticket sales or showmanship.

Rockhold, the 185lb champion, is genuinely chippy perhaps the chippiest person on the UFC roster. A California surfer with model looks, Rockhold is perceived as annoyingly confident, some might say egotistical. One thing is certain, he maintains a high opinion of himself and his status among MMA middleweights.

After Chris Weidman dropped out of the cards main event due to a scary neck injury two weeks ago, Bisping, the wisecracking veteran from Manchester, England, who lives in Los Angeles, was picked to replace him and, no surprise, trash talk picked up.

Will it mean Bisping can produce a competitive fight? Most observers suspect not.

The British fighter has agonized over receiving a UFC title shot since his earliest days with the organization.

Both times Bisping had a chance to rise to top contender status he failed Dan Henderson famously starched him at UFC 100, and Chael Sonnen won a tight decision three years later. So when a title opportunity presented itself, it didnt matter that Bispings last loss, his seventh, came versus Rockhold in 2014 following a lopsided affair that saw the British fighter mounted and choked with one arm.

Bisping, a Manchester United supporter, rebounded from the Rockhold setback with three straight victories, including a five-round decision over aging all-time great Anderson Silva in February. This performance at the O2 Arena in London did nothing to make the 31-year-old champion cautious of Bisping in the short-notice rematch.

Rockhold claimed he nursed his left leg through much of his training camp because of an issue with his meniscus. After hearing this (despite the fact Rockhold said the same on his Instagram account weeks ago) Bisping was incredulous, as if the cocky champion maligned an unwritten rule among fighters not to disclose bumps and bruises before a fight.

Youre just an average bloke, Rockhold explained to Bisping. Im a fucking samurai.

After taking pot shots at Rockhold, who earned the belt last year with an impressive stoppage of Weidman, Bisping (28-7) acknowledged the champions status and accepted the notion that despite his optimism at the age of 37 hes supposed to lose.

Again.

Fingers crossed Ill get the job done and go back to England, he said.

Bisping offers quality MMA in many areas, but nothing stupendous. He steps in against the tall, athletic Rockhold in good form, and could make a contest of it as long as he doesnt make a mistake. One hiccup would be enough for Rockhold to make good on his promise of showcasing what he characterized as a widening gap between himself and competent fighters like Bisping.

In the nights co-main event, Cruz and Faber will meet for the third time. The rubber match of two of Californias finest mixed martial artists is likely to settle their years-long feud inside the cage. Reconciliation of another kind feels like a lost cause, especially after Cruz and Faber hurled enough insults at one another at the Forum to make a fight night feel like professional wrestling.

Free from having to give a hard sell on this weekends UFC pay-per-view, White was able to enjoy the back-and-forth as he swiveled his shaved-and-polished head during the verbal volleys between fighters.

Rockhold and Bisping certainly entertained, but the real sparks were ignited by a pair of 135lb rivals.

Cruz, 30, has suffered one loss in 22 fights. That came against Faber at 145lbs in 2007 when he tapped to a guillotine choke. Four years later, at bantamweight, Cruz secured a unanimous decision and defended his UFC belt over Faber. By that time Cruz had developed into a much more complex competitor, adding layers of blistering footwork, off-angle movement and counter-striking to an under-appreciated wrestling game.

With or without his nemesis in action, Faber has remained an important fighter but never the breakout star he might have been had he captured a UFC title. A month after turning 37, this challenge could represent the California Kids last stand.

Cruz, a highly-regarded analyst for UFC on Fox events, said Faber (33-8) cant touch him. And he was cocky about it, too.

He fights exactly the same, Cruz surmised. Big shots, one at a time. Hell go for a submission and conserve his energy looking for a finish. Hell miss often. Ill connect often. And Ill beat him.

Saturdays pay-per-view also features an important contest in the featherweight division, as Max Holloway takes on Ricardo Lamas. Veterans Dan Henderson and Hector Lombard tussle at 185 pounds. And Dustin Poirier meets Bobby Green in a lightweight clash.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/jun/04/ufc-199-trash-talk-rockhold-bisping

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