In the main event of UFC Fight Night 48, Michael Bisping and Cung Le had the power.
They had the power to demonstrate that their bout had real implications for the middleweight division. They had the power to resurrect a theretofore subpar event in Macau, China. They had the power to dispel the notion that this was little more than a novelty fight pitting an also-ran against an MMA hobbyist.
Over 16 minutes, it was the former who took advantage; the 35-year-old Bisping (25-6) bested the 42-year-old Le (9-3) by TKO at 0:57 in the fourth round of the five-round main event.
Both competitors started tentatively, with Le attacking the body and firing leg kicks to pull some of the starch out of Bisping's attack. Bisping landed several of his trademark quick combinations in response, particularly as the first round wore on.
The tide really turned early in the second, when a counter left jab from Bisping opened a cut around Le's left eye and may have damaged the eye itself; Le spent much of the rest of the fight squinting (though replays did not appear to show a finger or knuckle entering the area). Le began to bleed heavily, and his eye began to close. A doctor checked Le's eye multiple times but allowed the fight to continue.
Le probably couldn't see much of the rest of what unfolded, but that might not be so bad for him. Though Le was hurt and rapidly tiring, his power remained intact, and the tough fighter continued to swing for the fences. But Bisping outclassed him each step of the way, using angles and footwork to steer clear of clean shots while peppering Le with punches and making an even bigger mess of the model/actor's face.
A flurry in the fourth was the beginning of the end. A left knee from the Thai plum position sent Le onto his back. A few academic ground punches sealed the deal for the Brit and the referee called the stoppage.
Here's what else we learned from the main event in Macau.
What We'll Remember About This Fight
Quantity over quality. Le, for the most part, played for the highlight reel, firing spinning kicks and monster left hooks in hopes of catching the Englishman flush. But nothing doing against Bisping, who was at least one step ahead the whole way.
Bisping's tumbling combinations gained energy over time as Le flagged. As Bisping smelled blood and his output rose, Le's did just the opposite.
Though no one should get too steamed up about the defeat of a 42-year-old part-time fighter in Le, Bisping certainly demonstrated that he is still a viable UFC middleweight. And he used his tried-and-true formula to make the case.
What We Learned About Michael Bisping
Though Bisping is not known for his knockout power, he did set a record in that department at Fight Night 48.
We also learned that Bisping still feels he is more than just a popular sideshow. After missing a year because of a detached retina, Bisping lost his return fight in April to Tim Kennedy. To hear him tell it, that was just a false start. This was the real Bisping, and the one we should expect.
"I took some time off, had some problems, came back, it didn't go well," Bisping told broadcaster Kenny Florian in the cage after the win. "This is what I'm capable of. Believe me, I'm capable of better."
We shall see, but for now, Bisping has moved himself away from the brink.
What We Learned About Cung Le
He is what we thought he was. After a fantastic first-round knockout of Rich Franklin back in the fall of 2012, Le regressed to the mean Saturday against Bisping.
His striking is powerful and picturesque, but if it's not a home run, it's a strikeout. Bisping acknowledged after the fight that Le's total lack of a ground game (Le did attempt one takedown in the fight) allowed him to open up his attack in a way he cannot when the takedown is in play.
And the muscular Le—who was the subject of performance-enhancement speculation during the week, per MMA Junkie—was visibly tired early. Bisping was more than happy to take advantage.
Le, who spends most of his time in the much-less-rigorous field of show business, has only fought four times since joining the UFC in 2011. He has a 2-2 record during that time. If you didn't know it before, or had some bigger expectations coming off the Franklin fight, let those be dispelled. He is tough, he is talented and he is charismatic, but Cung Le is a novelty fighter in the UFC, at best and forever more.
What's Next for Bisping
Bisping made his own desires known in no uncertain terms after the fight.
"Luke Rockhold has been calling me out. I think he has the hots for me," Bisping said of Rockhold in the cage. "You want to do it? Let's dance."
Rockhold, however, has been linked to Lyoto Machida in recent days, so we shall see. If Rockhold proves unavailable, allow me to suggest Nate Marquardt. Marquardt breathed new life into his career (and probably staved off his UFC release) with a first-round submission of James Te-Huna back in June. Given that he lost his previous three before that, the 35-year-old could use another win to stabilize his professional footing. A fight with Bisping will determine who can take another step.
What's Next for Le
In the cage after the fight, Le refused to retire, telling Florian he wanted to "take a vacation and...talk to his family" down the road.
If he does return, another novelty fight could await him in Mark Munoz. The 36-year-old Munoz has lost two in a row—his last a thoroughly unimpressive effort against Gegard Mousasi—but has vowed to press on with his UFC career. This could be an exciting loser-leaves-town matchup, not to mention an always-fun striker-versus-grappler combination.