For quite some time now, Michael Bisping has been on the cusp of challenging for UFC middleweight gold.
But somehow, through 24 Octagon appearances, “The Count” has not fought for a title of any kind in the Las Vegas-based promotion. Whenever he would begin to piece together a winning streak worthy of a No. 1 contender, he would often fall just one victory short of his goal. And thus, the process would begin again.
For much of that journey, Anderson Silva was king of the 185-pound division, and it was no secret that a Brazil vs. England showdown atop a pay-per-view card could have been quite lucrative for the UFC. Today, after being handily vanquished twice by Chris Weidman in a span of approximately six months in 2013 and with his legacy tainted due to a pair of failed drug tests at UFC 183 this past January, “The Spider” lacks the aura of invincibility he once had.
Still, when Dana White called offering Bisping a bout with Silva at UFC Fight Night in London on Feb. 27, the outspoken Brit jumped at the opportunity.
“For me obviously Anderson [is] a legend of the sport. He was a longtime middleweight champion and this is a guy that I wanted to fight for a long time,” Bisping said during a recent conference call. “Of course I wanted to fight him when he was the champion. But this is the biggest fight outside of a world title fight right now. Anderson is still a massive name; he’s still a huge draw. I have a lot of respect for him as a fighter. I always wanted to test myself against him; I knew I could beat him. I’m very excited about this fight.”
As a result of his year-long suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission, Silva will be making his first appearance since Jan. 31, when he initially scored a five-round verdict over Nick Diaz before the fight was changed to a no contest. In that bout, Silva showed flashes of what made him the sport’s pound-for-pound king not all that long ago -- including attempts at a vertical elbow and a flying knee -- but mostly he was content to circle and counter his opponent to rack up points on the judges’ scorecards. Considering he was barely a year removed from gruesomely breaking his leg against Weidman at UFC 168, it was a solid performance.
Even when Silva was at his peak, Bisping was never in awe.
“Anderson has always done some fantastic things. He really has captured the imagination with his striking techniques and just his fights in general,” he said. “If you break it down throughout his career, a lot of the fighters [he faced] weren’t all that: Patrick Cote, Stephan Bonnar. Some of his wins weren’t the best wins ever. He fights Chris Weidman; he lost twice.
“Against Nick Diaz, I thought he looked very beatable. He had some moments in the Diaz fight where he looked explosive, he looked fast and he looked sharp. But when I watch that fight I see a very beatable fighter. I don’t necessarily see that he’s slowed down; I always thought I could beat him.”
Bisping believes that many of Silva’s victims allowed the Brazilian to get in their heads before stepping into the cage. Once “The Spider” mystique took hold, Silva’s opponents were thrown off their game. While Diaz didn’t win, he wasn’t intimidated by the former champion at any time in the fight, and Bisping hopes he can take the Stockton, Calif., native’s approach a step further next month.
“I’m just going to utilize a lot of movement, fight my fight and take it to him. A lot of people when they fought Anderson, they were scared of him. They were beaten mentally before the fight started and you could see that in their performances,” Bisping said. “Diaz wasn’t scared of him at all and you could see that it threw Anderson off. You’ll see the same in this [fight]. I’m gonna give him the respect he deserves, but I’m not gonna be shy; I’m not gonna cower away from this guy. I signed this contract to fight this guy, to beat him, to knock him out and end his career.”
Not only would a win over Silva give Bisping a signature feather in his cap, but it would be four victories in five outings for the 36-year-old “Ultimate Fighter 3” veteran. It’s purely hypothetical now, but that would seemingly put Bisping in a familiar position: knocking on the door of a title shot.
“My first goal is to beat Anderson. So I’ve certainly got a tough test on my hands. I said to Dana Whtie on the phone, when I beat Anderson, I’ve won four of my last five, with my only loss coming to Luke Rockhold, who’s the champion,” he said.
“After this, yeah, I want to fight for the title. I think I match up well with Luke; I would love to get that rematch.”