Words

For Michael Bisping, It’s Now or Never

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photos by James Law

Twenty. That’s how many times middleweight Michael Bisping has wrapped up his hands in gauze and tape, strapped on his four ounce MMA gloves for the UFC, and gone to battle inside the Octagon. 14 wins, six losses, an array of records in the 185-pound division, including most strikes landed, most significant strikes, and most cage time, and still, Bisping has never competed for a UFC title.

Having already accomplished so much more than most fighters ever imagine possible, Bisping returns to action this Saturday in China’s Macau Special Administrative Region, facing off against Cung Le in the main event of UFC Fight Night 48. And while time is running out on Bisping’s aspiration of one day vying for a UFC belt, he’s giving it one more go-around.

Bisping, 35, first burst onto the international mixed martial arts scene back in 2006 as a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter season three, where he competed as a light heavyweight. Considered undersized at 205 pounds, Bisping went on to win the show, and quickly rose to prominence as the UFC’s most high profile British athlete, helping the promotion open the doors to Europe.

Winning his first four Octagon appearances, three of those by TKO, Bisping would eventually falter in his next outing, dropping a split decision to Rashad Evans. But in 2008, “The Count” would move down to middleweight, where he hoped he would find the same good favor and fortune that accompanied him during his days as a reality TV contestant.

At first, it seemed as though the change in weight class would take Bisping to the promised land. He earned a trio of victories in his first three appearances at middleweight; however, MMA legend Dan Henderson quickly derailed Bisping’s ascension up the divisional ranks, landing one of the most vicious knockouts in UFC history at Bisping’s expense.

Victim of a highlight-reel finish, Bisping became a bit of a punch line in MMA, a fighter whose most recognizable moment was crumpling to the canvas on account of Hendo’s H-Bomb, lying on the mat, stiff as a board. But, somehow, whether it was a dose of English grace and humor, or just plain and sheer stubbornness, Bisping returned to form after a decision loss to Wanderlei Silva, stringing together a four-fight win streak that would earn him his first UFC title eliminator matchup.

Unfortunately for Bisping, standing in the way of his first chance at a title shot was Chael Sonnen, who would not be denied a rematch with Anderson Silva. Sonnen took a unanimous verdict, sending Bisping back to the drawing board.

Next up for Bisping was Brian Stann, whom he would go on to defeat via unanimous decision. But it was at this time that Bisping lost the ability to win back-to-back bouts.

Set to square off against Vitor Belfort in January 2013, Bisping was told that, with a win, he would finally earn his UFC title shot. But, alas, Bisping would choke, suffering yet another highlight reel knockout, dropping to a Belfort head kick and punches in the second round.

And after taking a technical decision over Alan Belcher in his next outing, Bisping would be forced out of action for almost a year on account of a detached retina in his right eye.

Returning to the Octagon in April 2014, after a twelve-month layoff, Bisping looked uninspired in his comeback fight against Tim Kennedy. Bisping, who normally has excellent cardio and is quick to pull the trigger on his high level kickboxing, was gun shy in the contest, and unable to evade Kennedy’s onslaught of takedowns and top control. The loss would be his third in five outings, leading many to believe that Bisping’s days as a contender at 185-pounds were over.

And who could really argue with that?

The middleweight division looks nothing like the weight class that Bisping entered in 2008. Names like Jacare Souza, Luke Rockhold, Gegard Mousasi, and Kennedy, all of whom presently sit higher than Bisping in the rankings, were imported from Strikeforce, while former title challenger Lyoto Machida dropped down from light heavyweight, transforming the weight class into one of the promotion’s deepest.

Bisping also seems to be behind the curve on the ground, where his skills have been surpassed by a contingent of superior wrestlers and jiu jitsu practitioners. But to his credit, Bisping has been working closely with the team at the Reign Training Center in Orange County, CA, home to elite wrestlers like Mark Munoz, Patrick Cummins, and Brendan Schaub.

Luckily for Bisping, however, there is little-to-no chance his upcoming bout will go to the mat, as his opponent, Sanda ace Cung Le, is a pure striker, who has an aversion to the floor. And with a win, Bisping could re-instate his name in the legit challenger conversation, and perhaps even book a date with Rockhold, with whom he has been digitally bickering for quite some time now.

Talking smack is something that Bisping has always done well, helping to increase his popularity during an eight year Octagon career. An outspoken Englishman with quick wit and humor, Bisping has been a top draw for the UFC, and much like he aided the promotion’s expansion into Europe, he has similar potential as an asset in Macau, which is a regular weekend getaway for British expats in nearby Hong Kong.

But no amount of charisma and clever verbiage will transform Bisping into a title challenger. His only path to the belt leads through the cage, where he will have to win, repeatedly, to earn his crack at the championship.

 

 

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