It was a Wednesday night in Quebec, not an occasion when one can expect the UFC to shine a spotlight on the marquee, especially with a bigger fight card coming up on the weekend and a pay-per-view championship bout involving the sport's pound-for-pound No. 1 a week after that.
Even the marquee itself was a testament to a low-key upstaging, as it was the co-main event, which featured French-Canadian hero Patrick Côté, that was front and center in the minds of the 5,029 fans who filled about a third of Colisée Pepsi with their fannies and the rest with their vocal cords.
Côté grinded his way to a popular decision win over Kyle Noke, his counterpart coach on the recent Canada vs. Australia season of The Ultimate Fighter, after two Canadian-against-Canadian finales from the show. How did the evening capitalize on this wave of nationalistic pride? Out marched an American soldier and a brash Brit for the main event. Oh, Canada.
Yet something worth noticing happened when Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy stepped into the octagon. Exactly what it was is unclear.
Did Kennedy's unanimous-decision victory signify that Bisping's days as a middleweight title contender have passed? Or did "The Count" simply have an off night in a fight contested just 11 days short of a full year since his previous one? Then again, maybe Kennedy has stepped up his game and is ready to claim his spot among the crème de la 185-pound crème.
It's difficult to root out the reason why one man looked better than he ever has and the other looked worse than ever.
Kennedy (18-4) put it on Bisping (24-6) from the get-go, taking the fight to the canvas about 40 seconds in and keeping it there until the horn sounded to end Round 1. The US Army Special Forces soldier, who has won four straight, never came close to a submission but was constantly in search of one, passing guard four times. Bisping defended well but was not credited with landing a single significant strike.
Bisping did land some in the second, but that was not only his best five minutes, it was his only five minutes. Kennedy put him on his back again early in the third, and Bisping had no answer. In the fourth round, Kennedy beat him to the punch, snapping his head back and appearing to hurt him with some punches. And in Round 5 it was right back to the mat, where Kennedy was a smothering presence.
It wasn't Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, but Kennedy put on a show if you knew what you were watching. He passed guard nearly a dozen times, according to FightMetric, and had Bisping uncomfortable for much of the evening.
All of that was enough for the win -- two judges scored four rounds in his favor, the other all five -- but not necessarily self-satisfaction. "I finish fights; I didn't finish the fight tonight," Kennedy said afterward. "I hit Mike with my best shots and, um, things weren't clicking. So my hat's off to him."
Kennedy ought not beat himself up. Even without the finish, he did to Bisping what no one before him had done. Chael Sonnen, who's on any reasonable people's short list of top wrestlers in mixed martial arts, did beat Bisping back in 2012 but did not manhandle him. Kennedy even beat the career pattern out of Bisping. Prior to this fight, "The Count" had lost only fights that would have earned him a title shot. He's made a career out of beating everyone he was supposed to beat. And Kennedy, an awkward fighter for whom this was a step up in competition, was an underdog on this night.
So where does this night leave these fighters? Kennedy was ranked No. 10 in the most recent SI.com middleweight rankings, and was No. 8 in the UFC's media voted tally. Bisping was No. 6 on our list and No. 5 with the promotion. The upset hurts, but he was out of the cage for a year after having a detached retina repaired.
Now Tim Kennedy will move closer to the top of the 185-pound heap. Michael Bisping will try to put this night behind him. As soon as he figures out a way to stand up.