Sunday 21 January 2018

UFC 199 preview: With limited preparation Bisping faces his toughest test in a storied career

Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

On February 27 this year in the O2 Arena in London, UK MMA had its finest moment to date. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

At the end of the third round Michael Bisping lay prone on the canvas as Anderson Silver sat in top of the Octagon celebrating.

Just prior, as the hooter sounded to signal the end of the third round, Silva landed some big shots and finished off with a viscious knee. Bisping dropped to the canvas and the whole Arena drew breath.

Referee Herb Dean decided Bisping had been ‘saved by the bell’. He ushered the fallen Brit back to his stool and the jubilant Brazilian down from the Octagon wall.

You couldn't help but think that this was the beginning of the end for Bisping.

He had been long known as the best fighter never to get a title shot and seemingly Anderson Silva had all but confirmed that he never would. Silva had been the most dominant middleweight champion before he surrendered his belt to Chris Weidman in 2013. If Bisping couldn’t beat Silva what chance would he have against the guy that did?

Bisping battled back to win a somewhat controversial unanimous decision against Anderson Silva, one of the greatest fighters of all time. Once again Bisping earned the right to be considered in the title mix. But he would need some more events to conspire in his favour to get that title shot. The fight world moves in mysterious ways, and sure enough Bisping is now getting his long awaited tilt at a UFC world championship belt.

Far from being a journeyman pro that got a second wind in the twilight of his career, Bisping has been a great competitor since the first time he taped up as hands and put on the 4 ounce gloves. By the time he left the UK MMA scene he had won the Cage Warriors, Cage Rage and FX3 light heavyweight championships. His first foray into the UFC saw him win The Ultimate Fighter season 2 and he went undefeated in his first 14 fights.

After his first loss to Rashad Evans at UFC 78 in 2007, Bisping moved down to middleweight shortly after. Once in the 185lbs division he now became a serious title contender and a regular in the top 10 rankings.

Bisping had no trouble stringing wins together against fighters he was supposed to beat but time after time he fell short when up against top opposition.

He was first considered title contender material at UFC 100 in 2009. He fought Dan Henderson in a contender eliminator fight and got spectacularly KO’d for his troubles.

Having climbed back up the ranks he was then offered another number one contender eliminator fight against Chael Sonnen in January 2012. In a very close to fight the judges tipped in favour of Sonnen meaning Bisping once again slid down the pecking order.

Following Anderson Silva's consecutive losses to Chris Weidman in 2013, the middleweight division was thrown wide-open. Silva have been in dominant champion for seven years but Weidman knocked him out cold in their first fight and then Silva suffered a gruesome leg break in the rematch. With a new champion in place, the middleweight slate was wiped clean and challengers could make their case to fight the new champ.

Try as he might Bisping couldn’t get the momentum he needed to propel him towards a date with the new champion. Wins were punctuated by losses to other contenders like Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold.

After Luke Rockhold dethroned Chris Weidman his win over Bisping seemed to nix the Englishman’s chance of ever challenging for the title.

This is where events begin to conspire in Bisping’s favour.

Firstly, Rockhold and Weidman were scheduled to rematch this weekend at UFC199. However, Chris Weidman has been forced out with a neck injury with two weeks to go. The UFC were now scrambling for a suitable opponent to keep the main event alive.

Joel Romero who was supposed to be next in line for his title shot after beating Jacare Souza at UFC 194 in December 2015. He ended up testing positive for a banned substance, although he was later more or less acquitted of any wrongdoing he was still banned for six month which won't see him back in action until later this month.

Next in line was Jacare Sousa after his impressive victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC198. However, Jacare declined the title fight as he carried an injury into his last fight, one which requires surgery.

Even though he was in Canada filming a movie and far removed from a training camp, Michael Bisping answered the call and he said ‘yes’.

During the wild twists and turns his career took, Bisping never stopped talking about getting his title shot and one day becoming champion. Regardless of how unprepared Bisping will be entering the Octagon at UFC 199 he was never going to turn down his chance at greatness.

While some may dismiss the Bisping-Rockhold rematch as being one out of necessity rather than deserving ability there are a number of factors that add some interest to this story.

After his submission loss to current champion Luke Rockhold in 2014, Bisping revealed in a locker room interview that an accidental clash of heads had rocked him a little and that was the beginning of the end of this Bisping's fight.

Rather than dismiss it as an excuse Rockhold confirmed that he had indeed clashed heads with Bisping and he felt the British fighter had come off worst.

A number of years back Bisping did some sparring at the AKA Gym in San Jose where Luke Rockhold trains. In an interview following the sparring session Bisping claimed “Let me put it like this: I've sparred with Luke Rockhold recently and let's just say I'm the unofficial Strikeforce champion. Sorry Luke, but these are the facts."

When you couple the clash of heads in their first fight with the unseen sparring session, maybe you start to think Bisping has a chance has a chance.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s to Michael Bisping’s credit that he never gave of believing or working towards his career goal. Rockhold will enter as a heavy favourite in the fight but the way things have worked out for Bisping, you would write him off at your peril.

You can watch the early prelim to this event on the UFC’s digital platform, Fight Pass. UFC 199: Rockhold vs. Bisping 2 will be available live on BT Sport through the Setanta package on Saturday night, June 4th.

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