Dan Hardy UFC column: Michael Bisping vs Luke Rockhold grudge match leads British hopes

A look ahead to upcoming fight schedule with British UFC welterweight and UFC commentator, Dan Hardy

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The Independent Online

Five of Britain’s best will be stepping into the Octagon during the month of November. Three international locations will host the UFC, starting with Sydney, Australia on November 8th with Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping and Ross ‘The Real Deal’ Pearson. Then a few hours and over 8500 miles away we will see Jimi ‘Poster Boy’ Manuwa taking on Mixed Martial Arts legend Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua in Uberlandia, Brazil. Following that we see Luke ‘Bigslow’ Barnatt and Brad ‘One Punch’ Pickett head out to Austin, Texas to compete on November 22nd.

It will be another busy month for UFC fans as we are spoilt with four great fight cards. This worldwide expansion is giving some of the UK's home-grown talent an opportunity to fly the flag around the globe, challenging some fine opponents from potential future prospects to established contenders. It’s a beautiful thing to see the growth of MMA around the world and with the driving force of the UFC behind it, it’s not going to slow down anytime soon.

Starting out as a 2-1 underdog, middleweight contender Michael Bisping will be headlining the Sydney card in a real grudge match. His opponent Luke Rockhold, has been campaigning for this match-up for some time. He feels like a win over Bisping is not only within his capability but will push him a little closer to that UFC gold, currently sitting above the fireplace at Chris Weidman’s house.

Showing his eagerness to get the bout signed, Rockhold offered ‘The Count’ his entire fight purse if he was unable to stop Bisping in the first round. More of a demonstration of confidence than an actual wager, Michael called his bluff and accepted. I have the good fortune of calling this fight from the commentators position and I can tell you this… There is nothing better than a grudge match to bring out the best in Michael Bisping.

Recently signed for the co-main spot on that same card, lightweight standout Ross Pearson will be facing New Yorker, Al Iaquinta. Coming off a 3rd round TKO over Rodrigo Damm at the beginning of September, he shows his keenness to climb the rankings by agreeing a bout with top contender, Pearson. Having his 2014 fight record blemished with a controversial decision loss to Diego Sanchez, Ross bounced back with a huge victory over Gray ‘The Bully’ Maynard.

Looking to close the year with an impressive victory, Pearson will be aiming to get this fight done before the judges are called upon. This is a great opportunity for Ross to set himself up for a strong 2015, whilst Iaquinta will be determined to slow his roll towards the top, potentially giving his own career a huge boost with a big name in his win column. As this card comes to a close number #11 ranked light-heavyweight, Jimi Manuwa will be preparing to take on his biggest name so far.

All too often the word ‘legend’ is thrown around in MMA circles, but few are as deserving as Mauricio Rua. Known more widely by his nickname ‘Shogun’, Rua has been kicking around at the top echelons of the sport for many years. Originally a product of the feared Chute Boxe camp with the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Shogun is a dynamic Muay Thai striker. Known for his overly aggressive style and willingness to absorb punishment and keep attacking.

Experiencing his first defeat back in March at the O2 Arena in London, Jimi will look to seize this opportunity to beat a world renowned fighter and get back on track. With only one loss on his record, to #1 ranked contender Alexander Gustafsson, it wouldn’t take much to get him within striking distance of the UFC title. And as anyone that has seen one of Jimi’s fights, he only needs one shot to seal the deal and walk away with the victory. If Shogun falls against Manuwa many UFC fans will shed a tear, myself included.

Shogun was a force to be reckoned with in the golden age of Pride Fighting Championships and has a massive international fan base. A win for Manuwa would represent a changing of the guard in the 205 pound division and the emergence of a real threat for the top ten. This looks to me like a throwback fight from the earlier days of the sport. A ferocious kick boxer against a heavy-hitting pugilist, both with a habit of hunting his opponents chin without any regard for their own safety.

Closing out the month we have two Brit favourites stepping into the eight-sided arena to get back on track after picking up losses in their last outing. Luke ‘Bigslow’ Barnatt is coming off his first loss in a frustrating split-decision defeat in Berlin back in May. He will be fighting Roger Narvaez, a man in a similar situation, tasting defeat only once in his UFC debut.

Then slightly further up the card we have Brad ‘One Punch’ Picket looking to get back in the win column after his loss to Ian McCall in Dublin. Ranked at #11, Pickett has had a couple of setbacks of late but is still a name to remember in the division. His fan pleasing all-out style will be put to the test by ‘The King’ Chico Camus. A big month for the UFC and for its British athletes. Tune in on UFC Fight Pass to watch all the action live.