Some cries of anguish sounded through social media newsfeeds as Michael Bisping was drafted in on two weeks notice to replace Chris Weidman in his middleweight title clash with Luke Rockhold. Yet, as we have marched closer to the June 4 date, there has been a resounding amount of people who have come out in support of the polarizing Brit.
You can’t help but think it has something to do with the man he will face on Saturday night at The Forum in California. Middleweight champion Rockhold’s dynamic skill set cannot be argued with, but he has always been deemed a somewhat egotistical man by the masses. Then again, ego has always been synonymous with proponents of combat sports. Perhaps Bisping stepping up on two weeks notice to face a man who beat him in two rounds back in November 2014 has endeared him to the MMA universe.
There has been a genuine calmness about the Brit throughout his media rounds during this fight week. At yesterday’s press conference, ‘The Count’ was at his best as he continuously wound up the California native in front of his home crowd. The 37-year-old even pointed to his swelling fan base ahead of the championship clash at one stage when Rockhold claimed that British fans had been reaching out to him and encouraging him to beat a man who is considered the greatest mixed martial artist the country has ever produced.
Without pause, Bisping lifted the microphone and gave the champion a whip of his sharp tongue.
“You know, that’s funny because the American fans are cheering me on!” Bisping boomed across the dais to Rockhold. “I think I’m going to get a bigger cheer than you on Saturday night because they all see a smug arsehole. Just like I do. Just like all these people do,” he said gesturing to the fans in front of him who cheered in support of him.
While Rockhold probably does have a small part to play in Bisping’s recent elevated status, the real reason behind it is that the Mancunian has captured our attention and held it for over a decade.
Love him or hate him, Bisping has demanded our attention ever since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Ortiz vs Team Shamrock. His trash talking tirades have always drawn the fans in, a lot of times because they wanted the person on the end of insult to put a whooping on him, but he has always found a way to make us tune in.
Let’s be honest, it has not been very difficult to dislike ‘The Count’ at times.
Angered by what he thought was a dig at his family ahead of their clash in February 2011, when Bisping delivered a knee to the head of Jorge Rivera in round one of their bout a lot of people thought ‘The Count’ threw the illicit blow intentionally. After finishing the contest in the second round, Bisping spat in the direction of Rivera’s corner and called his opponent a “loser,” prompting several publications to publish headlines underlining what they felt what a “classless” act.
The bout clearly had an impact on Bisping’s reputation. When he met Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller ten months later in Las Vegas, hisses rang around the venue that hosted the weigh in. In his interview following his face off, Bisping stuck his middle finger up to the crowd and shouted “Fuck you all” before leaving the stage.
Dan Henderson’s second round knockout of Bisping was one of the most celebrated finishing blows in the history of the sport. The Englishman constantly wound the legend up ahead of the UFC 100 clash. Jeering him with nicknames like ‘Decision Dan,’ it was like the whole scene celebrated the legend closing the loose lips of the TUF winner.
Would we have been as invested in them contests without Bisping’s selling skills? I really doubt it.
After spending a decade searching for his shot at a UFC title, Bisping finally is getting the respect he deserves. He opened the door that many Europeans have walked through since he became a household name. Conor McGregor has borrowed heavily from the marketing skills of the Brit with his own polarizing comments.
Aside from all of the shit talking, Bisping always brings the fight out of his opponents. He never backs down from a challenge, and Rockhold will know that his first defense on Saturday night will be no walk in the park.
At Wednesday’s open workouts, Bisping underlined how much his date with a UFC championship meant to him.
“I know what Luke Rockhold is capable of. I know that he’s a very good fighter. The opponent isn’t important. This is about me fulfilling my destiny. Whether it’s Luke Rockhold, Muhammad Ali or Godzilla, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to take a bullet to the brain to stop me on Saturday night.”
And that’s exactly why UFC asked him to step in.
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