Just across the River Thames from the brand new O2 Arena where UFC 75 CHAMPION v CHAMPION will take place, there stands the Greenwich Maritime Museum, which houses the uniform of British hero Admiral Nelson, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar who is remembered for his decree: “ENGLAND EXPECTS...”
On September 8, England will expect their MMA hero, Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping, to dispatch bitter rival Matt Hamill in UFC 75’s eagerly awaited grudge match. It is a fight the undefeated Hamill has been clamoring for ever since injuries prevented him from throwing down with the Briton during the third season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The fight has been promoted as the TUF final that should have been, but Bisping isn’t a fan of that sales pitch.
‘The Count’ explained: “We were both on the third series of TUF and (coach) Tito Ortiz picked us as the best two fighters there, but the fact is I beat three guys to win that series and was in complete control of every single fight from start to finish. Meanwhile, Hamill had one fight and looked crap in it.
“I know how strong he is and how good a wrestler he is, but I also know what I’ve got too. End of the day? I got more and that’s why I won that competition last year. He had his chance to become the TUF 3 winner same as me - but I got the job done and he couldn’t.
“My claim to fame, if you like, is winning the Ultimate Fighter series. But if I lose this fight, to someone else from that show, it’d almost be like I never won it in the first place. I worked harder than anyone on that show and there’s no way I’m gonna let this guy take what I achieved, and the plans I’ve got for my family if I keep on winning in the UFC, and take it away from me. No way, mate.”
Much has been made of the fact Bisping wasn’t initially keen on the fight, but the undefeated light heavyweight was at pains to explain his initial reluctance.
He said: “I just thought I’d proven myself the class of the field in TUF 3 and I didn’t have much to gain from Hamill; meanwhile, Hamill had been handed a opportunity I didn’t really think he’d earned just because he’d been throwing my name around. But then I thought about it some more and I saw the positive I can take from this. I think I’ve proven I’ve got pretty good stand-up, I think I’ve proven in my last couple of fights I’m hard to submit and that my BJJ is there - but I’ve never fought a world class wrestler.
“Well, now I’ve got one facing me in London so it will be a different kind of test, a different type of challenge for me and one I am actually now really looking forward to. Hopefully I look good in this fight and then I can tick the box which says ‘I can beat up a top class wrestlers.’ I’ve got big ambitions in the UFC but if I can’t deal with wrestlers there’s something missing from my game. I think I’m a well rounded fighter and will prove that September 8.”
Wrestling, be it freestyle or Greco-Roman, is barely practiced in Great Britain, and a lack of fundamentals in grappling remains a character weakness for many British MMA fighters. In an attempt to sharpen up his takedown defences, Bisping flew out to Big Bear, California to join Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and a who’s who in MMA, including heavyweight Brandon Vera.
And Rampage, who matches his UFC 205-lbs belt against that of PRIDE king Dan Henderson at UFC 75, warns that his friend is not easy to take to the canvas.
“Hamill is gonna be surprised,” he said. “The Count is a bad dude. We’ve been training very hard together. He’s my boy, we’re friends, and we’re improved a lot together. We have brought out the best in each other.”
Bisping v Hamill is a good old fashioned grudge fight.
“I don’t get on with him, no,” Bisping said. “I think he’s an ego-maniac, a bit arrogant, yeah. But to me it doesn’t matter whether or not I like someone personally or not. With me, as soon as I sign to fight someone, suddenly I don’t like them anyway. I find things in their personality that get on my nerves and I want to kick them. I don’t do it consciously to motivate myself in the fight or whatever, it just happens.”
Well, it is obvious that the Count doesn’t lack in motivation when he clocks on for work. Bisping’s berserker charge down the aisle towards the Octagon for his UFC 70 bout in April awakened many a childhood memory of WWF nutcase character the Ultimate Warrior.
“It was a bit amateurish of me to be honest,” Bisping said. “I really got carried away by the occasion. The noise of the crowd just took over me. I couldn’t walk slowly, I was just too excited. I couldn’t wait for the cameraman to slowly walk me down the aisle, he was walking to the Octagon so slow it wasn’t working for me. So I just ran in there. I couldn’t wait to fight and although I had a great first round I was rushing a bit with my kicks and my timing was off. The plan in this fight, obviously, is to catch Matt shooting in with a kick or a knee to the head so I’m gonna try and keep it a bit calmer.”
“We’ve worked very hard with Mike about that,” added manager Anthony McGann. “We’ve had him visualise the night, the crowd, the noise of the event and atmosphere so he’s as prepared as he can be for the adrenaline rush of the night.
“From the moment he walks into the Arena he’s going to look directly at the Octagon and Matt Hamill. Mike loves the fans and he’ll have loads of support from family and friends, but for those 15 minutes the only person who matters in that arena is Matt Hamill.”
Sounds like a plan. After all, England Expects...