He is one of the most polarising figures in MMA history, on June 4, Michael Bisping has the chance to culminate his ten-year UFC career with a world title accolade which has long alluded him.
Headlining UFC 199 against Middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, Bisping becomes the first British fighter to challenge for a UFC title since Dan Hardy lost to Georges St-Pierre in March 2010.
It’s a fight for Bisping which he accepted on just two weeks notice after original challenger Chris Weidman fell-out with a serious neck injury. The Count was busy filming for the new xXx sequel starring Vin Diesel when he got to call from the UFC. Maybe it was bad timing or just destiny’s pull, as he began to launch a new Hollywood chapter, the Brit couldn’t ignore the magnetism which would draw him back to his true stomping ground.
It’s far from ideal taking the bout without a full training camp, but as he said during the UFC 199 pre-fight press conference, “two weeks, two days, two hours, I don’t care. I’ll take on anyone, anytime, any place, certainly this arsehole.”
The Count has never shied away from an expletive comment, in the build up to this fight alone, Bisping has described his distaste for Rockhold very colourfully. The mild mannered Rockhold often seemed to laugh off Bisping’s verbal jabs, but it’s something which the Cyprus born fighter has founded his popularity on. The no-nonsense, British smacktalk style has earned him his fair share of critics, whilst simultaneously making him one of the most alluring fighters in the sport.
Saturday night isn’t just about Bisping realising his destiny, it’s about second chances, of many sorts. In September 2013, he suffered a serious eye injury, a detached retina which required surgery to repair. The Count spent a year on the sidelines, in a battle to save his vision, let alone his fighting career. After almost a year away from the Octagon, Bisping returned to the UFC. Despite losing on points to Tim Kennedy, it was a huge indicator of the heart he possessed to face such a tough test after overcoming the biggest challenge of his life.
However, the man he must conquer in order to realise his dream, Rockhold already holds a win over Bisping – a figment of uncertainty which could develop harmfully. The pair headlined a UFC Fight Night in Sydney, Australia, in November, 2014, the build up, similar to this, was fierce and unfriendly. The fight itself, was much different. Bisping struggled to find his range against Rockhold, who had expertly used his leg kicks to keep Bisping off rhythm. In the second round of the fight, a left high kick, shin to skull, dropped The Count before Rockhold pounced and finished with a guillotine choke.
It was a humbling experience for Bisping, who had to question whether or not he would ever achieve his championship aspirations. A decade of blood and grit in the UFC, a major part of the promotion’s growth in the U.K. and Europe, Bisping; in the prime of his career, took inspiration from his loss to Rockhold. He went on to dominate C.B. Dolloway in Canada, outsmart Thales Leites in Scotland and most impressively, beat Anderson Silva in front of 17,000 of his own at the O2 Arena.
The win over Silva further defined Bisping’s character. A jumping knee from the Brazilian at the end of the third round dropped the home country fighter, but he survived – something he has done his entire career. The output of Bisping is likely what won him the fight, always active and constantly outlanding the man many dubbed ‘the greatest of all time’.
Evidently, it is that large output of Bisping which makes him such a dangerous opponent, the most significant strikes landed in UFC history, his range and movement allows him to consistently out-strike those infront of him.
Including Rockhold, Bisping has fought eight elite world champions from WEC, Strikeforce, Pride and UFC. That itself epitomises the career of a man fearless to all-comers. On Saturday night, he has the chance to make history and become the first British world champion. It’s definitive of his character, that even on two weeks notice, Bisping has once again managed to capture the heart’s of a nation. You may love him, or you may hate him, but the 37 year-old makes it impossible to ignore him.