When Michael Bisping faces Luke Rockhold in the UFC 199 headliner on Saturday, it will have been nearly a decade since “The Count” made his Octagon debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 3” finale.
During that time, Bisping has emerged as one of the most recognizable figures within the Las Vegas-based promotion, an oft-loathed figure for his perceived villain persona by fans and a popular call-out target for fighters looking to propel themselves to a more prominent status in the sport. Through the years, a title shot always seemed to be just out of reach. Bisping would seemingly be one fight away from a chance at glory, only to fall painfully short again and again.
Through it all, the Englishman refused to temper his expectations, and devastating defeat only seemed to strengthen his resolve. A submission loss to Rockhold in November 2014 could have signaled the end for Bisping as a relevant fighter at 185 pounds. Instead, he refocused and proceeded to earn consecutive triumphs over C.B. Dollaway, Thales Leites and Anderson Silva.
Still, Bisping needed good fortune to receive his first championship opportunity, and it arrived when Chris Weidman was forced to pull out of UFC 199 due to a herniated disc in his neck that would require surgery. Even with the event approximately two weeks away, Bisping wasted little time campaigning for his opportunity on social media. More good luck occurred when Ronaldo Souza, the next top contender in the division, needed meniscus surgery following his win over Vitor Belfort on May 14.
With that, 25 fights into his UFC tenure, Bisping finally will get to vie for promotional gold. The significance of the moment is not lost on him, but he is adamant that he will not be overwhelmed.
“Listen, all the pressure is on Luke. It’s very, very free mentally. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing. I have no pressure. I know I’m expected to lose,” Bisping said during a recent conference call. “The world is expecting me to lose this fight. And that’s so nice. That feels good. I haven’t had 10 weeks of evaluating footage and going through the emotional roller coasters feeling confident, feeling negative, feeling confident again and then negative again. I haven’t got time for that s--t.
“I’m very, very confident. I’m in great shape. My weight is perfect. I’m expected to lose, that’s awesome because I’m going to go out there and I’m going to show off to the world,” he continued. “I’m going to swing for the fences and I’m going to push that guy up against the fence and I’m going to unload with everything I’ve got right in his face. And, you know, I think it gets the job done, I do. I’ve stopped many guys in the past and I believe I can stop Luke.”
With that in mind, Bisping admits that the abbreviated camp was something of a blessing in disguise. He last competed on Feb. 27, when he took a five-round verdict over Silva at UFC Fight Night in London. While he wasn’t in training mode in the interim, Bisping isn’t the type to let himself go between bouts. This time, he expects to in better overall condition after not having to survive the rigors of a lengthy camp.
“As long as I’ve been fighting now, this is the first time I’ve had a short-notice fight. I wish this had happened to me [more often] because I would realize I don’t need these long, drawn-out, eight-week camps,” he said. “I mean, I’ve done this my entire life. The technique is there, the skill is there, and the conditioning and the endurance is there.
“I just fought Anderson Silva for five rounds not too long ago. I started training. I’m flying through five rounds super easy. I’m going to go into this fight very fresh, very strong. After an eight-week camp it’s draining. You lose muscle. You lose strength. That ain’t going to happen in this fight.”
The first meeting between Bisping and Rockhold was not particularly competitive, and the American Kickboxing Academy product finished his British rival with a head kick and guillotine choke 57 seconds into round two. Not surprisingly, Bisping expects their rematch to have a different look.
“As I said many times every fight is different and I’m very comfortable in there with him. I know my speed can match him. I’m going to come up with a different game plan this time. And, he isn’t superman. We’re all just humans, you know? We’re all capable of being knocked out. I’ve been stopped before, Luke’s been stopped before and so it can easily happen again,” Bisping said. So I’m going in there now knowing what I did wrong last time. I’m looking to rectify those mistakes. I’m very confident.”
Rockhold continued his impressive run following his win over Bisping, overwhelming Lyoto Machida to earn a title shot before dominating Weidman to capture the belt at UFC 194 in December. Rockhold’s only defeat in the last eight years came against a TRT-infused Belfort in 2013. Bisping is well aware of his opponent’s résumé, but “The Count” also knows how long his own journey to get this point has been.
“I’m not going to sit here and say negative things, you know? I mean, he’s doing great,” Bisping said. “He absolutely destroyed Machida and he had a great outing against Weidman. You know, Weidman’s a tough SOB, you know, he really is and Luke went out there and dominated him, won the fight. I expected him to do that, I really did.
“But this is about me. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is [at UFC 199]. It could be anybody in the roster. The fact is I win this fight next week. This is a lifetime’s work that’s coming down to this. And it really in many ways it is do or die. It is for me. And believe you me that makes me 10 times more dangerous.”