"Never mind the title shot; the belt is what I’m after, and until I achieve that, I won’t sit back on my porch in a rocking chair just yet." - Michael Bisping
If you were checking fighter resumes, how would this one sound?
23 wins in 27 pro fights. 19 of those wins were finishes, 16 by knockout. Of his four losses, three were via questionable decision, and one was to one of mixed martial arts’ all-time greats. Three Fight of the Night awards. And while he hasn’t won a title or even challenged for one, he may be one or two wins away from doing so.
Not bad, eh? You could even dare to say it’s a body of work most fighters would cut a limb (or at least a finger) off for. But not when it’s attached to the name of middleweight contender Michael Bisping, a fighter whose trash talking and blunt assessments of the MMA world over the years have clouded over his accomplishments and his status as one of the best 185-pounders in the world.
The proof is on the paper, whether you like him or not. He’s not a media creation or the fighter pushed by the UFC because they needed inroads to the UK market. He’s the real deal.
“When you put it down like that, it’s hard to argue,” laughs Bisping. “You’re right though, the obvious criticism and the rudest people always wrote that the UFC was just after the UK market and all the rest of it. The fact of the matter is, I haven’t fought in the UK for nearly two years, and before that it was 11 months, and I live in the US, so that further weakens that theory. If people don’t like you, they’re not gonna talk s**t about you one second but on the flip say, ‘oh, but he’s a great fighter.’ They’re just going to write you off as an a*****e and a terrible fighter to boot. So that’s what people would do, and they weren’t looking at it with a clear head. I’ve been around this long and I’ve achieved what I’ve achieved, and I think it’s hard to argue with.”
You can’t, at least if you’re thinking rationally. In the UFC since 2006, Bisping has won 12 of 16 UFC fights, defeating the likes of Chris Leben, Mayhem Miller, Jorge Rivera, Dan Miller, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Denis Kang. His decision losses to Rashad Evans, Wanderlei Silva, and Chael Sonnen could have gone either way, and his lone knockout defeat was at the hands of Dan Henderson. Yet “The Count” is still waiting for his shot at the title, something that constantly crosses his mind.
“I haven’t had the title shot yet, I think it’s long overdue, and I get a little pissed off when I think of some of the people, like Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, that have had title shots, but I’ve still got a long ways to go. I haven’t had a title shot yet, and I haven’t been the champ yet. And never mind the title shot; the belt is what I’m after, and until I achieve that, I won’t sit back on my porch in a rocking chair just yet.”
To get to the top, he has to not just beat Brian Stann this Saturday night in Toronto, but he has to make a major statement at UFC 152 to propel himself past Chris Weidman, should the unbeaten New Yorker, beat Tim Boetsch in December.
“I’ve been around this long, I got beat by Dan Henderson fair and square, and apart from Dan Henderson, I’ve had a near-perfect run in the UFC,” said Bisping, 33. “There have been a few questionable decisions where the judges thought I lost, but I’ve never been involved in a fight where I’ve been beat to a pulp from start to finish, where the Octagon has been splattered with my blood at the end of it, and I was looking to make it out of the fight alive. That’s never happened. I’ve always held my own, and I’ve never been embarrassed. I’ve been caught with one shot on the chin and it put me to sleep, fair play. But other than that, I’ve been consistently one of the best, I was on a four fight win streak, you could say I was robbed against Chael, so beating Brian Stann would be a six fight win streak, and if I put a dominant performance on, I don’t see why that shouldn’t give me a title shot.”
Strangely enough, should the Manchester, England native stop Stann or deliver a dominant decision win, he may just get a groundswell of public support that has been missing since he won season three of The Ultimate Fighter. And that change in the weather started back in January, when he fought Sonnen on short notice a little over a month after stopping Mayhem Miller in their December 2011 bout. Just accepting the bout got him plenty of converted followers; almost beating Sonnen did even more.
“It’s very bizarre, but that does seem to be the case,” he said. “I think people recognize that I accepted it on short notice, I went in there, I fought hard, and didn’t get the decision, but I took it like a man. I didn’t cry and bitch about it afterwards; I just said well done to Chael and you get on with it. I get fans on Twitter all the time saying ‘I used to hate you, but now you’re one of my favorites.’ So people are slowly coming around after all these years.”
But can Bisping, who eagerly embraced the villain role, shed it to become a fan favorite?
“I’ll be honest, it’s more fun being the bad guy (Laughs), because you want to vent, and if you’re the bad guy, you’ve got a place to vent and tell people to go screw themselves, but I’m pretty much a nice guy anyway,” he said. “I’m a family man, I’ve got three kids, and it’s not that hard to embrace it (being a fan favorite).”
Yet despite this change in the weather, almost everyone becomes the bad guy when facing Brian Stann. And though Bisping has made no bones about it in the past that he fights better when angry, he’ll have to make do this week against an opponent it’s impossible not to like.
“I do fight better when I’m mad,” said Bisping, “and Brian Stann is not a trash talker, he’s not a loudmouth, so there isn’t gonna be that element to it. But for me, I’m coming off a loss. Even though it was close and a lot of people thought I won, technically I’m coming off a loss to Chael Sonnen, and I’ve never lost two in a row, so that’s all the motivation I need. I’m gonna be very, very fired up on the night and I’m gonna do everything that I can.”
And Bisping has been complimentary of the decorated United States Marine Corps veteran and what he does in the Octagon. He just doesn’t think it will be enough to beat him.
“When I look at him, he’s very effective at what he does, but I’m not overly impressed,” said Bisping of his foe. “He hasn’t got the biggest skill set. He’s basic at what he throws, but he’s effective, and often the basics are the best. But he hasn’t got a massive box of tricks that I’ve got to look out for. He doesn’t even use his jab very much – it’s a right hand and a left hook and a low kick. Yeah, if you get in the clinch he’ll throw a knee or whatever, but he’s not the type of guy that’s coming in with crazy kicks or flying knees or things like that. So in that respect he’s quite easy to prepare for. I believe with good head movement and good speed, I should be able to pick him apart all day. And whilst I’m doing that, I’ll mix in a few takedowns, I’ll look for submissions and ground and pound, he’ll get back to his feet and I’ll repeat it all over again until it’s too much for him, he caves into the pressure, and the referee drags me off. That’s how I see the fight going down.”
It’s almost as if he’s played Saturday’s fight out in his head a million times. He’s probably done the same thing for a hoped for title bout. The question is, does current champion Anderson Silva play a starring role, or is it someone else? And if so, does it matter?
“I want to be the champ, I want to make history, I want to be the first guy from the UK and Europe to have the belt, and taking it off Anderson Silva would be amazing,” said Bisping. “The guy’s the greatest fighter of all-time, he’s an inspiration, and I’m nothing but a fan. But I want to fight the guy and I want to beat him. Also, to be fighting alongside Anderson Silva for the amount of time that I have in the UFC, if it never got to happen, I would be massively disappointed. Because when you look back and people talk about the greatest fighters ever, 20 years from now people will talk about the legends of the sport and I’ll be like ‘well, I used to fight,’ and it was the same era and I fought on the same cards sometimes, but I never actually fought him, so that would be very disappointing. But I want to be the champ. I’d love to take it off Anderson, but hey, don’t get me wrong, if I have to take it off somebody else, that would be just as nice.”