Photo by Esther Lin for mmafighting.com
For the past few years, the UFC has been trying to sell fans on the idea that Michael Bisping is an elite fighter - a Middleweight who is among the very best, and just inches away from a shot at Anderson Silva. And for years, that message has seemed rather forced. Amidst the UFC hype, the Bisping many fans, including myself, actually saw was a perfectly fine, but in no way exceptional fighter. A fighter with decent kickboxing skills, but no power to close the show. A fighter whose big wins all came against less than top level opposition. In short, a fighter who did not merit that praise.
Last night, on UFC on Fox 2, Michael Bisping changed that opinion.
Over the course of 15 minutes, Bisping fought the best fight of his career, and he did it on the biggest stage of his career. Bisping was the underdog to Chael Sonnen, and for good reason. Sonnen was the man who had rolled through Nate Marquardt, Yushin Okami, Brian Stann, and had dominated Anderson Silva for over 20 minutes. What could Bisping possibly have to challenge him?
The answer it turned out, was quite a bit. Bisping came into the fight focused, determined, and with a solid game plan, which he executed very well - an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the fact that, until two weeks ago, he was training for a completely different opponent stylistically in Demian Maia. Yet in spite of this late change, and in spite of seeming to be in over his head, Bisping took the fight to Sonnen, stuffing the wrestling master's takedowns, scrambling back to his feet when taken down, and controlling the action against the cage. For the first 2 rounds, Bisping not only avoided the notorious grind of Sonnen, he fought back with a grinding game of his own.
In the end, Chael did secure that takedown, winning big in round 3, and just inching by in the first 2 rounds to take home a unanimous decision victory. And so you could look at this as just another example of Bisping being unable to win against the very best. But to do so is to ignore the reality of what happened in this fight. And what happened was Michael Bisping took the fight to Sonnen, battling to a close decision that many will forever argue the Brit should have rightly won.
Most importantly, Michael Bisping finally lived up to the UFC hype. He proved that he does indeed belong at the top of the division, and that he is more than just a product of marketing and match-making. Suddenly, the idea of Bisping vs. Silva doesn't seem quite so ridiculous.
Whether you love him or hate him, and whether you scored the fight for him or not, last night's big winner was Michael Bisping - a true force in the Middleweight division. And for the first time, that's not hype.