London is set to host the biggest fight in the history of UFC FIGHT PASS on Saturday night, as the greatest mixed martial artist England has ever produced, Michael Bisping, takes on the most spectacular proponent the sport has boasted, Anderson “The Spider” Silva.
The iconic English capital is gearing itself towards the UFC’s return to The O2. Billboards declare the arrival of the world’s flagship promotion all over the stations that support London’s underground transport system. Three letters synonymous with the fight game, UFC, are sprawled across Potter’s Field overlooking the legendary Tower Bridge.
As darkness falls on the European metropolis, a handful of classic London cabbies do their rounds with the two protagonists of the event emblazoned on the side of their vehicles.
Throughout the day, a number of the stars of Saturday night’s fight card take to various social media platforms to interact with fans. Later, Bisping, Silva, Brad Pickett and Tom Breese arrive at London’s famed shopping mecca, Oxford Street, where they strut their stuff to the whoops and applause of a captive audience.
As Bisping makes his way to the matted area, the heightened volume indicates how much the perennial middleweight contender means to England. Asking for the assistance of a young boy in the crowd to help him with his drills, his newly acquired training partner is wide-eyed in awe of “The Count” as he shows him some quick techniques.
As any UK MMA fan will attest, there’s something different about Bisping when he fights on home soil. Having never tasted defeat on home turf in 17 outings, Silva will not only fight the outspoken Mancunian on Saturday, but he will also have to contend with his spirited support.
“The last one in London against Akiyama, that was amazing,” remembered Bisping. “London is such an iconic place and The 02 is such a magnificent arena. That was a great fight and a great victory for me. The crowd was outstanding. I’ve been very lucky that the crowd have always given me a lot of vocal support in the UK and I’m forever grateful for that, it just blows me away. When I first fought at home as UFC fighter, I had no idea of the support I was going to get. It was such an amazing feeling.
“When I get to the arena I always like to have a little sneak peek before my fight. UFC don’t mind me doing it. I just like to feel the energy of the crowd and just get a taste for it. It fuels me, it reminds me of why I do this and what I’m in store for later. I just feed off their energy.”
While he has led the line for his country for many years, Saturday night will force Bisping to lead by example as eight other charges from the UK will also face a variety of international challengers from all over the globe. Undoubtedly, the whole UK cast shares the views of Mike Wilkinson, who insists that Bisping opened the door they are all now walking through with UFC.
“Michael Bisping has done great things for himself, the UFC and for UK MMA. He was one of the first guys from here to get into the UFC and he’s made a big difference for us,” Wilkinson said. “There were a lot of people that said we couldn’t mix it up with the Americans, but Bisping has been there and done that.
“He gave us that hope that UK fighters can make it to the big leagues and they can make a lot of money in doing so. By seeing what he did, all of us knew that we were capable of achieving that too.”
Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll