Even the mere mention of this name in any conversation will ignite a heated debate, one side praising all he has done, the other downplaying his career. And to be honest, both sides have valid points. Never has a fighter been praised so much for so little, and downplayed so much for so much. Bisping is an enigma within the MMA world, and when the day comes that “The Count’ decides to hang up his gloves, there will be a massive hole left in the sport.
I am not personally a fan of Bisping, never have been. But even while I have never rooted for him, it was impossible to deny his obvious talent. Going on an eleven plus year UFC career, Bisping has proven many naysayer’s wrong countless times with his longevity and success, but its the degree of this success that has been the focus of his legacy.
Even before his official UFC career, Bisping’s stint on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter held an asterisk to some. When favourite Matt Hamill was forced out of the running with injury, Bisping took the baton and ran all the way to the finish line, winning the Light Heavyweight title and earning his UFC roster spot. But with Hamill’s injury, many felt Bisping had won a consolation prize almost by not facing the three time Division Two NCAA wrestling champion
Either way, Bisping began his career with back to back knockouts over Eric Schafer and Elvis Sinosic, which led to a meeting with Hamill. Following a spirited bout at UFC 75, Bisping was awarded the first of his controversial decision win’s, with many feeling Hamill was on the wrong end of a hometown advantage. This win would vault Bisping into title contention, and would face season 2 TUF winner Rashad Evans for a place within the divisions elite at stake. For the second time in two bouts, Bisping was involved in a controversial decision, this time ending up on the wrong side of a split decision, which earned him his first career loss.
Following this loss, Bisping would make the move to Middleweight, defeating Charles McCarthy, Jason Day and Chris Leben before landing a coaching gig on The Ultimate Fighter opposite Dan Henderson. The prevailing talk was that the winner of the UFC 100 bout would earn a title match against Anderson Silva, and while Henderson did not receive this title shot, he would go on to finish Bisping with one of the most recognizable strikes in UFC history. Bisping had now suffered his second career loss, and was at a crossroads in his career. He was far from finished, but was almost being forced to prove he belonged with the upper echelon fighters of the UFC, and received another chance against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110.
With another loss to a “top” fighter in Silva, and a 4-3 record as a UFC Middleweight, Bisping had to decide if he was to be a contender or simply a talented fighter. Running off four consecutive victories over Dan Miller, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jorge Rivera and Jason Miller helped secure his shot once again at the divisions elite. Set to face Demain Maia at UFC on Fox 2, he was ultimately paired with Chael Sonnen in a Middleweight title eliminator. Once again, Bisping would find himself on the wrong side of a controversial decision and faced an uncertain future.
Up until this point, Bisping had appeared in a total of 16 UFC matches, including the TUF 3 finale, and had tallied a 12-4 record, which was very respectable. The problem with this however is that despite the 12 victories, only one had came against a legitimate top ranked, top talent UFC fighter, Akiyama. He had came close many times to finally clearing this hurdle, but close isn’t good enough. Following the loss to Sonnen, Bisping would alternate wins and losses over his next 6 bouts, defeating Brian Stann, Alan Belcher and Cung Le, while losing to Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold.
By defeating both Stann and Belcher, Bisping did shake the knock of not beating a high level opponent, but had still not done enough to be in the serious talk of legitimate contenders within the division. The manner in which he was defeated by both Kennedy and Rockhold left him as a perceived gatekeeper moving forward in his career. But after the Rockhold loss, something happened that would change Bisping’s career forever. Seemingly the man always on the wrong side of a close fight, Bisping would go on to earn three straight close decisions over C.B. Dolloway, Thales Elites, and Anderson Silva, easily his biggest win to date. This streak shows how deceiving a record in MMA can truly be, and how important momentum is as well. Had Bisping lost even one of these bouts, his UFC 199 title match with Rockhold may have never been available, and call it luck if you like, but Bisping took his chance and ran full speed with it. A late notice replacement for Chris Weidman, Bisping not only took the matchup, but finished the seemingly untouchable at the time Rockhold with relative ease.
At the age of 37, Bisping had finally achieved his dream of becoming a world champion. The man who would take on anyone at any time was finally rewarded with the ultimate prize for his willingness to compete at the drop of a dime. This should have been the greatest moment in the career of fighter such as Bisping, but in true controversial Bisping fashion, his next announced bout set that praise back for many. In a division with fighters such as Yoel Romero, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Rockhold and Weidman all waiting in the wings, Bisping’s first title defence came against Dan Henderson. The Dan Henderson who held a 4-6 record since his return to the UFC, with a 2-2 mark as a Middleweight.
Another talked about decision would be awarded to Bisping, as would his second lengthy layoff due to injury, or depending who you ask, posturing. Bispings’ next opponent, Georges St. Pierre, seemed even more undeserving then Henderson did, yet The Brit seemed to only want this bout, as it would garner the most attention and financial gain. Had the man many claimed to be a fighter willing to take on all comers suddenly decided that his days of challenge would be be replaced with compensation? In today’s UFC, it is hard to blame anyone for looking to cash in, but fans still want to see the best fights, not the assumed biggest fights.
Bisping would fall to a third round submission against St. Pierre, followed by a puzzling first round loss to Kelvin Gastelum only three weeks later, leaving many to wonder if this was the last time The Count would grace the UFC Octagon. Bisping appears to want one more matchup, in March of 2018 at the O2 Arena in London, England, which would be a fitting venue to end his career. But when the end comes, what are we left with?
A former colleague, Ben Farrelly, spun up a fantastic short post on Bisping and his attraction within the sport, questioning why so many were pleased to see his downfall at the hands of Gastelum. The answer, while sad, is obvious to me: when you play the heel, you will be treated as one. It doesn’t matter if it is only an act, because if you do it well enough, as Bisping did, people will believe it and treat you accordingly. Bisping was never one to keep his thoughts to himself over the years, which can be called honest or annoying. He was never shy to discuss his place in the sport, which can be called cocky or confident. He always had something to say about his opponent, which is either gamesmanship or poor sportsmanship. This was the brilliance of Bisping over the years, he made you draw that line in the sand and pick a side, as there was no middle ground.
You either loved him or hated him, it was as simple as that. His fans would fight to the death to defend his greatness, and his detractors would do the same to dispute it. For every Henderson “cheap shot” argument, there is the spitting incident with Jorge Rivera. For every bit of trash talk toward him his fans felt was too much, there was just as much from Bisping taken the same way. Personally, Bisping came across as cocky and self absorbed, but truth be told, who cares?
Whats wrong with acting this way in a sport defined by the strongest and toughest? We dont always need nice, sometimes honest is needed just as much. Bisping never had serious legal issues (save for the recent assault accusations), never had marital issues publicized in the tabloids, no drug infused rampages across the city, never held the UFC over a barrel with ridiculous demands. He was simply a man who wanted to be the best, who thought he was the best, and when he was crowned as the best, let everyone know it. He won some iffy decisions, and lost some. He beat the best and lost to the best. He was knocked down and out, and always came back to knock someone else down. Show me one professional fighter that wouldn’t trade places with the career Bisping has had?
The simple fact is that Bisping, such as fighters like Sonnen and Josh Koscheck, are an acquired taste. Either you like them or your don’t, the reasoning will vary from person to person, and not one is right or wrong. But like Sonnen and Koscheck, you must give Bisping the respect he has earned, not taken, over the years in the cage.
Besides, when he does finally walk away, who will you die for or wish death upon with no Bisping around? That fact alone shows his place within the sport of MMA. While I am not a fan, whatever he decides to do, Michael Bisping will always hold a place in my MMA memory bank, good or bad.