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For nearly a decade, Michael Bisping has chased Anderson Silva. Just months into Bisping’s Ultimate Fighting Championship tenure, Silva captured the UFC middleweight title. In the years that followed, Silva established himself as the sport’s gold standard. Beating Silva was the accomplishment that would validate Bisping’s entire career, so he pursued that title shot for years on end. He came close to getting it many times, but never got the ultimate opportunity. He just chased and chased with no satisfaction.
It’s a situation that’s nearly unprecedented in the history of the sport. Few champions have reigned for as long as Silva did. Few contenders are in the top mix for as long as Bisping has been without ever getting a championship opportunity. The intersection of those two facts led Bisping to dream about and concentrate on that one opponent for what must have felt like an interminable period. For Bisping, the quest for the title and the chase of Silva were one and the same. He won’t get the title shot, but he will get Silva in the UFC Fight Night 84 main event on Saturday in London. It’s the furthest thing from a consolation prize; it’s the most important fight of Bisping’s career.
The fight is so significant for Bisping in large measure because he has never received the respect or fan appreciation he deserves. Bisping has been one of the middleweight division’s best for most of his career, but he has continually been questioned by fans and even fellow fighters. The perception was he was a promotional favorite because of his stint on “The Ultimate Fighter” and that he got favoritism in matchmaking. It’s true that Bisping got some soft touches early in his UFC tenure, but he has been fighting high-level opponents almost every time out since then and winning more often than not.
There have been a few key factors working against Bisping in his quest for respect. First, he has dropped some close decisions at inopportune moments. His fights against Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva were very close, and a win in either one likely would have netted him a title shot. His main event split decision loss to Rashad Evans set up “Suga” for a fight with Chuck Liddell and then a title fight against Forrest Griffin. Bisping was left on the outside looking in.
In addition, Bisping is doubted because he lacks the big one-shot knockout power that many of his rivals possess. Bisping overwhelms opponents with volume striking and gets stoppages, but they’re rarely of the spectacular variety. That doesn’t diminish his skill as a fighter, but it makes for a less impressive highlight reel. MMA is a sport of moments and the fighters with the biggest moments tend to be remembered the best. Unfortunately for Bisping, the two most memorable moments of his career are likely knockout losses to Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort, just because of how explosive they were. For many fans, they cemented the perception that Bisping just wasn’t that good.
Beyond the questioning of his ability, Bisping has also had to deal with fans, particularly American fans, just not caring for him on a personal level. This likely stems from his rivalry with Henderson, where he was framed as the cocky Brit against the soft-spoken American. Bisping has been the British villain for most of his fights since, even if he chose to live and raise his children in the United States. In some senses, that’s not a bad thing at all. Bisping plays the villain well. He enjoys trash talking and building up a fight. Fans enjoy rooting against him. However, as he reaches the tail end of his career, it’s worth noting that there’s a lot to like about Bisping.
If there’s a defining characteristic of Bisping as a fighter, it’s that he’s an overachiever. He isn’t the best natural athlete or the most powerful striker. He succeeds by getting himself into phenomenal cardio shape and outworking his opponents. That hard work manifests itself not just in individual fights but over the course of his career. Time and again he has been knocked out of title contention only to keep working towards his goal. Even as he approaches his late 30s, he remains resolute in his desire to be the best.
Moreover, MMA as a sport is more entertaining with fighters like Bisping, fighters who build up interest in their fights each time out. Bisping is a natural entertainer who talks himself up and gets into it with his opponents. He also has a sense of the big picture. He doesn’t take himself too seriously in hyping up his fights, and his trash talking is generally of the good-natured variety. With the exception of the post-fight incident with Jorge Rivera in Australia five years ago, he has never done anything that genuinely reflected poorly on himself.
Also working in Bisping’s favor is that in a sport filled with performance-enhancing drug abuse, he has been a longstanding and outspoken critic of the practice. Many of his biggest losses have come against those caught using PEDs, and his career might well have gone differently if the UFC had adopted its current, more stringent drug-testing policy years back. Few fighters have been matched so often with proven PED users.
Bisping will soon have the opportunity to finally get the victory he sought for so long. A win over the great Silva in his home country would be a crowning achievement for his career after all his years of hard work and struggle. However, regardless of whether he wins or loses, one can only hope he gets his proper respect as his career reaches its end. Bisping has earned that already. Against Silva, he can earn much more.