Michael Bisping (left) file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
When the UFC holds an event outside the United States, chances are Michael Bisping will be fighting on the card.
Six of Bisping’s last eight fights -- dating back to his split decision loss to Rashad Evans at UFC 78 in November 2007 -- have been overseas, so it should come as no surprise that when UFC 120 goes down on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, Bisping will be called upon. There, he will meet Yoshihiro Akiyama in the main event. Bisping will hit the cage with supreme confidence.
“I’ve looked at Akiyama. I’ve looked at his style. I look at the way he fights, and I’m positive I can beat him,” he said during an Oct. 7 conference call to promote the event. “I’m a much better fighter than what I was one year ago. I’m prepared for a hard fight, but it’s a fight I know I’m going to win.”
Fighting in high-profile bouts in front of his countrymen does not appear to have gone to Bisping’s head. Neither has the notoriety he has gained since winning Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.
“I wouldn’t say I’m so well recognized,” Bisping said. “I live in a small town in the northwest of England, and I live with the same friends and family that I’ve grown up with my entire life. So, to be honest, nothing’s changed. You know, when I do venture out into cities and whatnot, yes, people do know who I am, I suppose. But, ultimately, I’m the same guy. I still live in the same place, the same small town, so not a lot’s changed. And because I still live there, I’m able to train and just continue with my regular lifestyle.”
The opportunity to fight in his home country does give Bisping a bit of an advantage over Akiyama, and he was quick to acknowledge it.
“Obviously, when I fight in England, the crowd is fantastic, and they get behind me, and that feels very special,” said Bisping, who has 16 finishes among his 19 wins. “I suppose maybe it does come into it a little bit. I always feel an extra incentive to perform and give the fans what they came to see. I do feel a bit of pressure. I want them to go home happy. It’s like if you go and watch your favorite football team and they lose, you go home feeling deflated. I don’t want them to come see me and pay out their hard-earned money to see a fight that I lose, and then they go home having a bad night. Also, I don’t want to lose, either. It definitely helps, but I’ve still got to get in there and knock them out on my own.”
Bisping comes into the Akiyama fight on the heels of a unanimous decision victory over Dan Miller at UFC 114 in May. The win stopped a slide of two losses in three fights. Bisping had been knocked out by former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson at UFC 100 in July 2009 -- the only time he has been finished in his 22-fight career -- and dropped a close unanimous decision to Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110 in February. Sandwiched between the Henderson and Silva setbacks was a second-round technical knockout of Denis Kang at UFC 105 in November 2009.
Bisping clamored for a rematch with Silva following his win over Miller but accepted his assignment against Akiyama.
“I’m focusing on Akiyama,” said Bisping. “I’d be a fool not to, you know. It’s going to be a tough fight. He’s a very, very good opponent, and I’ve got the utmost respect for him. After the fight with Akiyama -- fingers crossed, God willing, I beat him -- I just want to fight whoever brings me closer to the title. I’d love to avenge the loss to Wanderlei. I feel I beat him on that night, and I’d love to fight him again, but if it’s … if it’s not going to be him, then, you know, whoever it’s going to be, whether it’s Nate Marquardt or someone else, I don’t care who it is. Whoever the top dog’s out there that wants the belt, I want to beat them and then fight for the title.”
Along with Miller and Kang, the 31-year-old Bisping -- a Wolfslair Academy mainstay -- holds notable wins over Chris Leben, Jason Day, Matt Hamill and Eric Schafer during his time in the UFC. Prior to his run of two losses in three fights, Bisping had won 17 of his first 18 professional mixed martial arts bouts.
Akiyama will look to rebound from a third-round triangle choke submission loss at the hands of Leben at UFC 116 in July. The loss was his first in 14 fights -- a run that dated back to a first-round knockout loss against kickboxing standout Jerome LeBanner at a K-1 Hero’s event in March 2005. The 35-year-old Judo black belt holds wins against Kang, surging middleweight contender Alan Belcher and former heavyweight boxing champion Francois Botha.
To help prepare himself for the fight with Bisping, Akiyama spent time at Jackson’s Martial Arts in New Mexico. Bisping does not believe the time his foe spent under the watchful eye of trainer Greg Jackson will make a difference in the bout.
“In terms of preparation, it doesn’t change anything,” said Bisping. “With respect, I couldn’t care less who he trains with. He can train with anyone. What I’m focusing on these days is what I do, focusing on my training, and he can worry about what I’m bringing to the table. I feel in great shape. I’ve improved all my areas. Regardless of who he’s training with, I think I’ll be too much for him.”