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It has been an interesting month for Michael Bisping. On Nov. 4, Bisping was the unlikely Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder defending his crown against the beloved Georges St. Pierre, who after a four-year layoff made his long-awaited return to the Octagon at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The improbable rumblings regarding Bisping’s place on the list of all-time greats had already begun, and he was being given the opportunity to become the only man to defeat both St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. When linked with his upset of then-champion Luke Rockhold and subsequent successful title defense against Dan Henderson, wins that allowed him to even the score with both fighters, a compelling argument that seemed ludicrous a few years ago could be made: Bisping might be one of the greatest fighters of all-time.
Leading up to his showdown with St. Pierre at UFC 217, Bisping stood alone as the winningest fighter in UFC history with 20 victories. Much has changed since. Instead of spoiling St. Pierre’s return and basking in the afterglow, he found himself choked unconscious and no longer in possession of the middleweight championship. As a result, talk of Bisping as an all-time great abruptly stopped. In fact, the post-fight rumblings largely ignored the Englishman and instead focused on the new champion and his return from a self-imposed exile.
Now, we are nearing an extremely quick turnaround for Bisping, as he will meet Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC Fight Night 122 headliner this Saturday in Shanghai, China. It was a startling development, to say the least. Mere weeks after losing his title on the biggest stage imaginable, Bisping will attempt to get back in the win column as a short-notice replacement for a UFC Fight Pass event streaming to North America in the wee hours of the morning. While it would be disingenuous to ignore his defeat to St. Pierre, dropping Bisping from the all-time-greats discussion is unfair. His statistical achievements still stand, and though St. Pierre equaled Bisping with his 20th UFC victory, “The Count” can reclaim the lead with a win over Gastelum.
As with many subjective debates, holes emerge. Bisping’s title reign was not without controversy. His only successful title defense came against Henderson and was not in line with the meritocracy generally associated with championship bouts. Although Henderson is a revered figure and a decorated champion in multiple weight classes across multiple organization, he was ranked 13th at the time he was booked to meet Bisping and nowhere near the list of deserving contenders. The fight itself was extremely close, with many believing Henderson deserved the nod.
Though they were avenged, the aforementioned losses to Rockhold and Henderson were low points in Bisping’s career and will live forever in UFC highlight reels. He has five other losses to account for, four of them in the middleweight division: Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen and Tim Kennedy. Of his eight career losses, four have come against opponents who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. As the United States Anti-Doping Agency protocols were thrust upon the roster, Bisping rose to championship heights while others who had flourished in their middle age fell by the wayside. Along with his vocal stance against the use of PEDs in mixed martial arts, it becomes hard to ignore his ascent in that context.
Bisping has also been one of the cornerstones in the UFC’s push for international expansion. “The Count” has headlined nine international events for the company, and he was featured prominently on the main card in nine other UFC shows overseas. As one of the first fighters outside of the United States to be heavily promoted and used to open foreign fan bases, Bisping laid the blueprint for Conor McGregor, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Alexander Gustafsson and others who rose to stardom in their home countries.
“The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner has made no secret that retirement is in his near future. He has increased his presence in the broadcast booth and the acting world, likely in an attempt to ease his transition away from competition. It is certainly possible that he will end his career with back-to-back losses to bloated welterweights and compromise any future talk regarding his position among the greats. While Bisping has established himself as a fierce competitor whose trash talk has overshadowed his impressive in-cage accomplishments, history figures to look upon his career fondly; or at least it should. He may not have held UFC gold for long, but he held it nonetheless and paved the way for superstars like McGregor along the way.
No, Bisping does not stand head and shoulders above his peers, but as far as his legacy goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He is not the greatest fighter of all-time, but he might just be the greatest personality the sport has ever seen.