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Oftentimes a fighter’s career narrative will become encapsulated by a few individual fights. Wanderlei Silva’s Pride Fighting Championships showdowns with Quinton Jackson embodied the violence and destruction “The Axe Murderer” brought to bear upon his opponents throughout his career. The artistry of Anderson Silva was never more apparent than in his fight with Forrest Griffin at UFC 101, where he nimbly dodged out of danger before striking back with perfect precision. When Demian Maia took down Chael Sonnen at UFC 95 and finished him off with a triangle choke in a matter of minutes, it was quintessential Maia: Clean, efficient grappling meant decisive victory with only six total strikes.
For Michael Bisping, it’s difficult to overcome inside the cage the perception many have of him outside the cage. Prior to 2016, fans were more likely to think of Bisping in terms of his cocky persona and trash talking than any individual fight. Unfortunately for Bisping, if one fight stood out, it was almost certainly his knockout loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100.
This year has been a different story. It would be hard for a fighter to do much more than Bisping has to alter past negative impressions and create positive new ones. He defeated the all-time legend that he chased for so long in Silva. He knocked out a dangerous champion who had defeated him previously in Luke Rockhold. He then defended his title successfully against the man who handed him his most humbling career loss. It has been pretty much a dream year for the proud veteran.
Looking closer, however, what’s most notable about Bisping’s year is less the accomplishments that he achieved and more the way he managed to accomplish those goals. It was far from easy. Against Silva, he was basically knocked out at the end of the third round, saved only by the bell. Somehow, he managed to recover from a devastating kill shot from the Brazilian legend and actually won the fourth round. Without that round, he would have lost the fight.
Against Rockhold at UFC 199, the odds were stacked against Bisping in a different sense. Rockhold had already defeated him easily, and Bisping was coming in on short notice. The odds closed with Rockhold as a -900 favorite. Yet it was Bisping who scored an emphatic win and was crowned champion. Bisping defied the betting odds in a way few fighters in the history of the sport ever have.
The showdown with Henderson at UFC 204 on Saturday in Manchester, England, made the point even more emphatically than the previous two fights. Bisping was devastated in the first round against Henderson just like he was in the third against Silva. Worse, it came against a fighter he knew had already knocked him out with the same weapon in his most famous career fight. Worse still, it did not come at the end of a round, so he had to survive while continuing to get clobbered on the ground. As if that weren’t enough, it happened again in the second round. Facing tremendous adversity, Bisping did what he has done so many times throughout his career. He picked himself up, dusted himself off and kept going. In that way, the Henderson fight perfectly captured Bisping’s career in a nutshell. That fight and this year have shown Bisping for who he is in a positive sense.
Bisping has succeeded principally with his striking. Unlike some of his top rivals, however, he hasn’t been blessed with overwhelming power. Instead, he typically relies on volume and technique. His greatest strength is his cardio, a weapon honed most strongly through hard work. In so many of his fights, Bisping has done his best to avoid the danger presented by his opponents early in an effort to overcome them later. Like in the fights with Silva and Henderson this year, Bisping needs to survive trouble in order to succeed.
This trait has also manifested itself in a more macro sense. Bisping continually sought a title shot but lost a number of times at points where he was just on the cusp of getting one. Each time, he had to get back up and work his way back towards a title shot that he didn’t know would ever come. Many critics wrote him off after the Vitor Belfort loss, the Tim Kennedy loss and the Rockhold loss. Bisping just kept going.
In these many senses, Bisping’s career has been defined by perseverance. For a man ironically nicknamed “The Count” and criticized for perceived arrogance, his greatest strength is his unrelenting determination and work ethic. It’s hard to know how Bisping will be viewed in 15 years by those who look back at his career. If there’s any justice, he’ll be thought of more for his fight at UFC 204 than his fight at UFC 100. He stared adversity in the face and just kept moving forward. That’s a legacy to be proud of.