It has been a roller coaster career for Michael Bisping. After starting his career 10-0 he participated in, and won the third season of The Ultimate Fighter. In Bisping the UFC had found what it desperately wanted, a skilled and competitive English fighter. As the promotion looked to expand in Europe they needed marquee fighters to feature. After all, nothing sells a combat event as well as local talent.
Bisping would get through his first two fights after winning TUF with solid TKO performances despite stumbling slightly early in the second round against Elvis Sinosic before viciously pounding out the victory. Bisping began to face a very old problem for Brits in combat sports, he was confident and even downright cocky about his own skills and it was upsetting a large portion of American fans. To many, myself included, it just seemed like brash talk based on confidence with an understanding of the value of self-promotion. But the tale of the cocky Brit in a combat sport who was generally reviled was nothing new.
UFC 75 would do Bisping no favors in terms of public opinion as he stepped in with Matt Hamill. Bisping came in as a fairly heavy favorite (as heavy as -305 on some sites) but Hamill badly outworked him in the first round, landing 41 strikes to Bisping's 16 and got two takedowns. Hamill got a pair of takedowns in the second round but was much less effective with his striking and Bisping started to land crisp counters and jabs. Bisping clearly won the third round despite being taken down twice as he was landing more strikes off his back and standing landed some power shots and a head kick toward the end of the fight. Under a PRIDE style scoring system Hamill would win the fight hands down with his work in the first round but under the 10 point must it could have gone either way and I've always seen it as a win for Bisping (so does FightMetric for those interested).
Bisping next lost a close fight with Rashad Evans in a fight that showed exactly how hard it is to hold Bisping down as Rashad had trouble dealing with his scrambling ability. Still, Rashad outworked him with the takedowns and it led to a split decision loss, the first of Bisping's career.
A move to middleweight was next where Bisping displayed some much improved technical striking. I've talked about the Charles McCarthy fight in the past but this fight really impressed me as Bisping used feints (a tool not well used by many mixed martial artists) to move McCarthy into the strikes he was setting up. Bisping brutalized McCarthy and followed that up by demolishing a streaking Jason Day.
Chris Leben was next on the schedule in the main event of UFC 89. Through three rounds Bisping had outpunched Leben 87-45 and outlanded him on power strikes 82-39. It was a controlled, dominant striking display that some felt was "point striking" but that shows no regard for the fact that decision is a legitimate way to win a fight and the way Bisping fought was exactly right in terms of avoiding getting into a firefight with Leben who hits like a truck and has a granite chin.
As impressed as I have been generally with Bisping's striking technique throughout his recent career, the Dan Henderson fight was a major failure in that area. "The Count" spent the entire fight circling into Henderson's power hand and eventually ate the crushing right hand that he had coming. It was a complete lapse in technique and showed that Bisping was not yet an "elite" fighter.
Bisping came back with an impressive stoppage of Denis Kang where, despite talk of lacking heart, he survived an initial onslaught that put him on his back and got a takedown where he landed vicious ground and pound. Bisping put on a decent performance in his bout with Wanderlei Silva but couldn't close out rounds and it cost him on the judges scorecards. Finally, in his most recent performance Bisping would almost double the amount of punches landed by Dan Miller.
Before I go, I'd like to make one more point about some things that constantly comes up from fans when talking about Bisping:
- Point Striking - Ignoring that this is a fight sport and not simply a fight, decision is as legitimate a way to win as anything else. However, Bisping has won a total of three fights by decision in his career and gone to the judges scorecards five times in 22 fights. In his three decision wins (Hamill, Leben, Miller) those men have been stopped by strikes a combined two times. He has finished 16 of 19 wins.
- Losses - Bisping's three career losses came against Dan Henderson (former multi-division PRIDE champion), Wanderlei Silva (former long-time PRIDE champion) and Rashad Evans (former UFC light heavyweight champion). He is clearly not "elite" but he has a lot of promise and has shown that he is able to hang solidly at the top of that level just below.
- Attitude - I think Bisping has as solid a handle on self-marketing as anyone in the sport. He talks a lot because he knows when he talks, people talk about him. He is confident, but show me a fighter who is not. I honestly think that his cocky attitude is more marketing than some sign that he has no respect for his opponents or the sport.
In Yoshihiro Akiyama, Bisping will face another stiff test that can be dangerous on the feet at distance, in the clinch or on the ground. It should be a hell of a fight and one that helps us see exactly where Bisping stands in his career.