While they are among the most notable fighters in the middleweight division, Michael Bisping and Cung Le both need a big win to become a serious candidate for a shot at the 185-pound championship.
An accomplished UFC veteran, Bisping has been on the verge of earning a title shot multiple times. However, he's had trouble putting wins together when it matters. Over his past six appearances, he has alternated wins and losses, failing to generate the momentum needed to become the top contender.
Le has always been considered immensely talented. However, his acting career has prevented him from being active enough to become the best in the world. Despite taking another 21 months away from competition heading into this matchup, Le could become a serious contender with an impressive victory over Bisping on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 48 in Macau.
As this pivotal middleweight main event approaches, now is a good time to take a closer look at where Bisping and Le must excel to earn a win this weekend.
Michael Bisping: Weather the Storm and Keep the Pace Torrid
Expect Bisping to approach this matchup the same way he approaches every matchup.
The Englishman has some of the best cardio in the middleweight division, so he'll be wise to utilize volume striking as much as he can. That strategy could be especially effective in this matchup.
Likely due in part to his inactivity, Le has had a tendency to fade in later rounds. Never was that more apparent than in his UFC debut against Wanderlei Silva, who was dominated by the Strikeforce veteran before breaking Le's nose badly in a second-round finish.
As long as Bisping can weather Le's strong opening stanza, he should be able to control the pace from the second round to the end. If he keeps Le working and wears the 42-year-old down, the end could come before the scorecards need to be considered.
Cung Le: Mix Offense Up and Set Up the Head Kick
With two knockout losses inside the Octagon, Bisping does have some holes in his defensive striking.
A dynamic striker with knockout wins over Rich Franklin and Frank Shamrock, Le has the potential to exploit those shortcomings. However, he can't come at a crafty fighter like Bisping with spinning kick followed by spinning kick as he did against Silva. Le needs to be unpredictable and mix things up.
Scoring multiple takedowns on Patrick Cote at UFC 148, Le put his underrated wrestling on display. Bisping has some underappreciated wrestling of his own, so Le isn't going to win this fight with takedowns. However, an unexpected one early on could end up lowering Bisping's hands, as he'll be less sure what is coming at him.
The last thing Le wants to do is abandon his striking in this matchup, but throwing a surprise takedown attempt at Bisping will open up striking possibilities in a big way. It could lower the Englishman's guard just enough for Le to sneak a shin over Bisping's hands and earn a shocking finish.