Viewpoint: In Defense of ‘The Count’

By Tristen Critchfield Dec 5, 2011
Michael Bisping’s 12 UFC victories rank 11th on the all-time list. | Photo:

Outside of his homeland, he is one of the most reviled personalities in the Ultimate Fighting Championship today, the fighter you love to hate. That much is obvious. However, amid all the venom that stateside fans spew toward the man they call “The Count,” another fact has been conveniently buried.

Michael Bisping is underappreciated.

It was apparent as the sounds of displeasure that always seem to accompany a Bisping fight drifted into the Octagon moments after he put the finishing touches on a surprisingly one-sided shellacking of Jason “Mayhem” Miller at “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale on Saturday in Las Vegas. Was the crowd inside the Palms Casino Resort not impressed that Bisping had become just the second person to finish Miller with strikes in 31 professional bouts? Did it not appreciate the precise boxing and rigid takedown defense that gradually wore down Miller? Of course not, because the executor of the action was Bisping, the bully who was supposed to receive his just dessert: a beatdown from the zany TV host whose Saturday Night Live shtick adds levity to the seriousness that is mixed martial arts.

Instead, here is the prickly Englishman, back in a position where so few want him to be -- on the cusp of title contention in a middleweight division that is starving for new challengers to Anderson Silva’s throne. It is a situation not entirely unfamiliar to Bisping, who seems to be perpetually a fight or two short of top contender status.

Detractors will point to his losses -- to Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva -- as evidence that the 32-year-old does not measure up against elite competition. They will dissect his approach and dismiss it as point sparring, even though he counts 18 finishes among his 22 victories. They will analyze his resume and declare his gaudy record a product of favorable matchmaking catered to the interests of British supporters.

It does not help that, when given the chance to make amends, Bisping sometimes chooses to flip the bird to fans who already view him as a heel. The same people who cried foul when he won a controversial split decision against “The Ultimate Fighter 3” castmate Matt Hamill on his home soil at UFC 75 probably stood up and cheered when Dan Henderson added an extra follow-up punch to an already-unconscious Bisping at UFC 100. Rooting for Bisping to fail is a popular pastime.

What is overlooked is that Bisping’s outstanding credentials, including a 12-3 record in the Octagon, already make him one of the most successful fighters in UFC history. It is a sneaky number, because those 12 victories tie him with B.J. Penn, Diego Sanchez, Chris Leben and Kenny Florian for No. 11 on the UFC’s all-time list. Four of those five men are products of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Penn is a former two-division champion and a legend.

It would be shortsighted to mention Bisping’s accomplishments in the same breath as Penn right now. The Wolfslair Academy product does not have the signature victories -- or to put it in college basketball terms -- the strength of schedule “The Prodigy” has had. However, Bisping’s prosperous run through mixed martial arts’ premier organization is impressive nonetheless. Just ask Miller how difficult it is to perform on that stage.

After dropping a unanimous decision to Georges St. Pierre in his lone UFC appearance in 2005, “Mayhem” cemented his reputation as a durable submission specialist with a capable gas tank. He went five rounds with Jake Shields inside the cage and admittedly grew up outside of it. All signs pointed to a better Mayhem than the one who left the UFC six years ago.

Whether it was an adrenaline dump, nerves or simply getting caught in the moment, Miller did not live up to expectations against Bisping, fatiguing in round two before finally wilting in the face of the Brit’s continuing onslaught in the third round.

“I’m just tired,” Miller confessed. His opponent deserves some credit for that. Wins in the UFC do not come easily, no matter the competition.

Meanwhile, Bisping has been nothing if not consistent, emerging from the scrutiny of “The Ultimate Fighter” to put together a solid career that may have seen its best performance to date against his rival reality series coach. Still, when asked what fight he most wanted next, Bisping did not respond with the arrogance that is so often assigned to him. Instead, he chose to focus on his flaws in victory.

“I’ll be honest. I wasn’t happy with that,” Bisping said. “First round didn’t go [according] to plan. Second and third were good, but if I were to face the champion, a first round like that wouldn’t cut it, so I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Too often, Bisping is denounced for what he is not -- thrilling knockout artist, cuddly ambassador -- than for what he is -- an ever-improving tactician and an entertaining antagonist. No matter what he does for the remainder of his career, some people will continue to gleefully anticipate a Henderson redux. Others, however, might be finally starting to come around.

“I trained really hard for this fight. I can’t make any excuses. For all the boos that Michael Bisping gets, he deserves your applause as a fighter,” Miller said.

Miller and Bisping may never share libations, but “The Count” earned something greater than camaraderie on Saturday: the respect of his opponent. While Bisping will probably never inspire the masses to cheer in unison, he deserves the same from the sport’s fans.

And if he does not get it? Boo all you want; he is only getting better.


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