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The Michael Bisping Hall of Almost Fame: MMA contenders that never were

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A Hall of Fame celebrating the best MMA fighters who could never quite manage to earn a title shot.

Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Since the beginning of civilization (and probably long before that) human beings have been concerned with being the best fighter. Over the ages that competitive spirit was redirected into sport and eventually we arrived to an area where men and women fought to be the biggest badass of people similarly sized to themselves. But being the fecund species that we are, there is an enormous surplus of people trying to be King and very few openings for the position.

The simple truth is that not everyone can be the best. The goal of any fighter in MMA is to beat people up, climb the mountain, and challenge to be world champion. Some succeed; most fail. But even the ones that fail can look back on their title shot as the crowning achievement of their MMA career. They had the chance to be the best whether the actually were or not and that's really all anyone can ask for.

But not every fighter even gets that opportunity. Truth be told, there are many fighters who received title shots that are much worse than many who haven't. Through fate, luck, bad timing, or just the inability to win 'the big one' to put themselves over the edge to title contention, there are countless elite fighters who never got their crack at gold; men and women of significant skill and accomplishment who hung around the top of a division (sometimes for years) but never got their day in court to prove they were the best. These fighters inevitably fall to the wayside of memory, forgotten but for their diehard fans and family members.

Well no more. I am proud to introduce to you the Michael Bisping Hall of Almost Fame!

What is the Michael Bisping Hall of Almost Fame?

It is a Hall of Fame for the middle children of MMA history. The short history of MMA is littered with the resumes of good but not great fighters who deserve to be remembered for their contributions and accomplishments in the sport. This is a way to recognize them.

Who gets included?

The overall guiding principle is simple: the best fighters to have never fought for the premier title of their day and age.

What is considered 'the premier title' for a weight division?

For men weighing 170 lbs. and up we are talking about UFC and Pride Titles only. and only the actual title belts. No tournament finalists count. For divisions under 170 things get slightly murkier.

For 155 lbs. fighting for either the UFC belt or the Pride strap excludes one from consideration. But the UFC didn't have a lightweight division until 2001 and had no belt from 2002 to 2006 whereas Pride didn't implement their title until Gomi won it in the 2005 Grand Prix. So for pre 2005-2006 the Shooto 155 lb. belt (what Shooto called Welterweight) will be considered the premier title for Lightweights, carving out an exception also recognizing the UFC Lightweight Championship held by Jens Pulver from 2001-2002.

For 145 lb. men the Zuffa controlled UFC and WEC Featherweight Championship is considered the premier 145 lb. belt starting in 2007 with Uriah Faber's title run. Before 2007 we will consider the Shooto 145 lb. belt (Shooto refers to this as Lightweight) as the Featherweight Championship of most significance. The same goes for Men's Bantamweight. The WEC belt is the premier strap starting in 2007 with Chase Beebe. Prior to that we are using the Shooto 135 lb. title (which they referred to as Featherweight).

Now some of you are probably thinking, ‘Hey! Didn't the WEC start in 2002? What gives?' and you are correct. The WEC Featherweight belt does date back to 2002; however, tragically, it falls victim to the ‘Lemoore Rule' which states that fights held in parking lots and seen by almost no one don't count for our purposes, even if the fighters involved are brilliant. I'm sorry for knee capping your Championship Cole Escovedo but think of it this way, now you're eligible for this hall!

As for Men's Flyweight the UFC's inaugural 125 lb. belt only began in 2012 so before that we again defer to the Shoot 125 belt (known as Bantamweight). A legitimate argument can be made to also use the Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight Championship dating back to 2010 but sadly the Lemoore Rule is ironclad.

The Women's titles are even harder to pin down. For Women's Featherweight (otherwise known as the Cyborg division) we are using the Strikeforce Featherweight Championship beginning with its 2009 inauguration and then the Invicta belt after that. Prior to that everything is just too difficult to keep track of. SmackGirl had an Openweight title but stopped its official weight classes at 58 kg (roughly 125 lbs.) and had some competitors over the would be 145 lb. limit. Likewise the premier Women's Bantamweight title also starts with the Strikeforce 135 lb. belt which then rolls over into the UFC's.

Finally, the premier Women's Strawweight title is the UFC 115 lb. belt starting in 2014. Here however SmackGirl did have a defined weight division (what they called Lightweight) so from 2005 to the inception of the UFC Strawweight division we can use the SmackGirl (and later Jewels when SmackGirl rebranded in 2008) title.

I'm choosing to ignore Bellator's 115 belt in 2010 for 2 reasons. 1) The belt was awarded and then never fought for again. It's hard to put a ton of credibility behind something that is almost immediately discarded. 2) I'm willing to bet this is the first time you've heard of Bellator's 115 lb. belt. Think of this as an offshoot of the Lemoore Rule. If you fight for a world title and no one knows about it then does it really count? No. At least not for our purposes.

Also, if you personally wanted to cut off the Jewels title at 2013 with the beginning of the Invicta 115 lb. belt I wouldn't fault you; however, since Carla Esparza almost immediately vacated it to join the UFC where she won the inaugural Strawweight Championship and Bec Rawlings (the woman she beat in Invicta for the belt) isn't likely to make it into the Hall-most of Fame the point is kind of moot anyway.

Do interim titles count?

No they don't, however, everyone who has fought for an Interim title of a major promotion (aka the UFC) has also fought for a legitimate title at one time or another so the point is moot.

Are there any other rules?

The idea is to highlight fighters who are retired or on the downturn of their careers so no hot shot prospects in here. Similarly, any aging or past their prime veterans who are still hanging around the periphery enough to maybe warrant a title shot in the near future are excluded, otherwise Alistair Overeem would be a first-ballot Hall of Almost Famer.

For those of you noting that this rule seems incredibly applicable to the namesake of this award I say to you, ‘nah.' If there was ever a time to give Bisping his title shot it was off the Anderson win but instead they opted for Weidman. Now Bisping will have to win one more against a contender which just won't happen. Unless he beats old new young wrestling dinosaur-lion Vitor in a rematch and they try to sell a title shot off of that or something, Bisping won't ever challenge for the belt. If I'm wrong, then this becomes the Jim Miller Hall of Almost Fame and you can all call me names.

Why is it named after Michael Bisping?

More than any other fighter his legacy will be defined by having never fought for the title. I'm not sure he is "the best" fighter who will be enshrined here (though he may well be) but he is unquestionably the most appropriate one for this Hall to be named after.

Who decides who to induct?

I do. I am Lord High Commander of the MBHoAF.

Why should I care?

You probably shouldn't. But since you are an MMA fan you probably care way more than you should.

I disagree with you about something.

Pass it along to Michael Bisping that I named a somewhat ignominious fake Hall of Fame after him. After that, I'm sure I won't be around long enough for you to take further issue with me. Or just tell me in the comments.

Who would you most like to induct into the MBHoAF but can't?

Mark Hunt. I almost feel like I should be able to since his UFC career is so different from his Pride career that his Fedor fight in Pride shouldn't count but rules are rules, even when they are arbitrarily made up by myself in the first place. Tatsuya Kawajiri is a close second.

This all seems incredibly arbitrary especially the ‘Lemoore Rule' nonsense.

Maybe it is arbitrary. Maybe I just really wanted an excuse to write at length about Megumi Fujii and Ian McCall but the parameters of this Hall would bar me from doing so thus I had to create some reason why their fights didn't count. Maybe shut up.

Can you please just get to the inductee?

Absolutely.

Star-divide

Star-divide

Star-divide

Michael "The Count" Bisping

Stats & Numbers:

Height: 6' 1"
Reach: 72"
Stance: Orthodox

Career Record: 28 - 7 (15 KO/TKO, 4 Sub)
UFC Record: 18 - 7 (9 KO)
VS Top 10 Opponents: 2 - 4
VS Champions/Contenders: 2 - 6

1393 Significant Strikes Landed (Most in UFC History)
1728 Total Strikes Landed (2nd Most in UFC History)
5:20:04 Total Fight Time (2nd Most in UFC History)

4x Fight of the Night Award Winner
1x Performance of the Night Award Winner
Winner of Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter Light Heavyweight Division
Tied for 2nd Most Wins in UFC History
Most Wins in UFC Middleweight History.

Why is he in the Hall?

Simply put, Bisping has been a high level fighter for almost a decade and a very successful Middleweight. He has also been one of the most visible figures in the UFC for years both due to his nationality and personality. If he doesn't make it into the UFC Hall of Fame (which I suspect he will) he absolutely deserves to be recognized for his contributions to the sport. There is no better candidate to be our inaugural inductee to the Hall of Almost Fame.

What was his game like?

Bisping's game has been largely unchanged until relatively recently, dating all the way back to his Ultimate Fighter days. The jab-cross combination is the foundation of Bisping's offense in the same way that grass is the foundation of a cow's diet; it consists of damn near nothing else. For the majority of Bisping's career his offensive striking consisted almost exclusively of jabs and crosses. His game was predicated entirely on the simple boxing 1-2 (and 1-1-2) and unbelievable cardio which he used to wear opponents down. When he got an opponent to shell up he still didn't use uppercuts or hooks but would either step back to keep throwing the straight right or employ Thai knees. Despite the narrowness of his striking he still managed to consistently find the chin of his opponent's, chipping them down with his 1-2 like a hammer and chisel until they succumbed to the volume of strikes. He did this by using constant shoulder and head twitches and feints to disguise the timing of his strikes. He also had a good feel for distance and was usually just outside of his opponent's range of strikes so he could step in and land his bread and butter.

In many ways it is remarkable that Bisping managed to be so successful with such a basic offense. His kicking game was glacially slow and he almost exclusively circled to the left, foregoing the outside angle in orthodox matchups in favor of setting up his right straight down the center. (You may remember that it was this tendency which assured him his immortality by putting him on the wrong end of the UFC highlight reel courtesy of Dan Henderson's right hand, despite his corner literally screaming at him to circle the other way.) Also he rarely threw extended combinations, usually stopping after his cross to reset.

The most surprising thing of all about Bisping's offense was his steadfast refusal to attack the body. Bisping's wins virtually all came as a result of attrition, his incredible cardio allowing him to outwork his opponents. But instead of catering to his one advantage over just about everyone he restricted himself to almost exclusive headhunting. Not only is this counter-intuitive because body work would be the single most complimentary strategy for his skill set, but also because refusing to work the body meant opponents only had to worry about head strikes.

Defensively, Bisping used fair head movement to take himself off the center line when throwing but the predictability of his offense left him open to be countered if properly timed. This was exacerbated by the fact that he often didn't bring his lead hand back after throwing his 1-2 (Luke Rockhold looked for check left hooks often in their fight). When not throwing punches his head was relatively stationary and he withdrew straight back to reset instead of taking angles to counter and stay engaged. He had a good chin but not great, however his recovery was excellent and allowed him to turn the tide with his volume when facing guys with heavier artillery.

As far as the grappling game goes, Bisping was a very solid top position grappler, working aggressive ground and pound when he got there. His offensive wrestling was average at best but he made up for it with excellent timing on his shots which he set up by stepping slightly off line with his one two before level changing onto the hips to drive back through. His defensive wrestling has always been lauded and he was very good at stuffing the first shot from his opponent's; however he struggled some with disengaging making him susceptible to high level chain wrestlers. On the bottom he used good butterfly hooks to elevate his opponent and create space for scrambling back to his feet. He's a BJJ brown belt but no one ever had too much to fear from him off his back; everything was predicated on getting him back to his feet.

For the first 7 years of his UFC career, Michael Bisping was roughly the same fighter as when he came through the Ultimate Fighter house, with marginally improved striking (and substantially improved wrestling). After the Belfort fight and the ensuing eye problems stemming from a detached retina, Bisping began showing more growth. Perhaps it was the fact that he had only one functional eye or perhaps it was because he was on the wrong side of the aging curve and so he was forced to develop some craft to his game but since the Belfort loss, Bisping has diversified his arsenal of attacks using lots of hooks and he's even improved his kicking game. His movement is better and he began using inside and outside angles more. He even finally started sitting out on his punches some, improving his power which has long been the knock on his striking. He still pulls away off his punches often and he still hasn't developed a potent uppercut (which would have been very useful against Tim Kennedy) but he is technically superior to his younger self.

The problem here is that Bisping - who was never a great athlete but a plus one in a relatively thin division - finds himself in a division where the top 10 is now populated by hyper-athletic fighters. Moreover, he is older with a good chunk of wear on his body. His chin is imminently less sturdy and he has one functioning eye which if you've ever seen how a referee reacts when a fighter says he can't see out of one eye should tell you all you need to know about Bisping's long term viability in the division.

Are you sure you didn't leave anything out you long-winded duffer?

Actually I did! Thanks for asking. Aside from his technical skills in the cage Michael Bisping is one of the dirtiest players the game has ever seen. He habitually grabbed his opponent's shorts during grappling exchanges and was not averse to taking advantage of an eye poke. He constantly played to the referee to turn any discretion into a point deduction or advantage for himself and on more than one occasion complained for a standup when he was on bottom. Sometimes these antics hurt him like when he was complaining about getting his mouthpiece knocked out and Anderson Silva jump kneed his face off, but mostly they were the intelligent tactics of a guy looking for every edge he can get. In ring antics were quintessential Michael Bisping and a hallmark of his game.

Also it would be disingenuous not to mention the bump the Englishman received by virtue of his nationality. Michael Bisping came into the UFC at a time when the company was looking to expand into national markets which made the well-spoken Brit a very valuable asset. He is undefeated in the United Kingdom and has fought 9 of his career bouts there, many of them essentially set up fights to get him wins. He was brought along more similar to the way prospects in boxing are rather than the hellish gauntlet the UFC frequently throws promising young fighters into (the former being, in my opinion, a better way to do things). Now some of this favorable matchmaking can be attributed to being a winner of The Ultimate Fighter back when the UFC was really trying to push those guys, but a good portion of the Zuffa bump was because he was born across the pond. None of this is to denigrate the man. A fighter can only beat the guys the promoter puts in front of him and more often than not Michael Bisping did just that.

Why didn't he ever get a title shot?

Honestly, because he never deserved one. Michael Bisping came into the UFC as a Light Heavyweight out of TUF 3 and, like all TUF winners back in the day, he was given a softball of a starting schedule. His first 3 opponents had a combined record of 34-29. After winning a questionable decision against Matt Hamill he then lost a close one to future LHW Champion Rashad Evans precipitating his drop to 185. There he rattled off 3 more wins before being put in the cage with Dan Henderson. Henderson was the first ranked opponent he ever faced (in his 9th UFC fight!) and had he won that fight it is very likely he would have been given a title shot. We all know how that ended and instead the title shot went to Demian Maia, on an impressive 1 fight winning streak at the time.

After a setback against Wanderlei Silva he put together 4 more wins over middling competition before being given another title eliminator against Chael Sonnen which he also lost, albeit via very close decision. It was not until his next fight (his 17th in the UFC!!!) that he finally notched a win over a top 10 opponent by beating Brian Stann. After that came the Belfort loss and since then his record has been uneven.

Despite being a top 10 middleweight for much of Anderson's legendary run which saw inferior fighters like Thales Leites and Patrick Cote get title shots, Michael Bisping could never notch a signature win and thus never got, nor deserved, a shot at UFC gold.

How would he have matched up with the champion?

Though they just recently fought with Bisping coming out victorious, I think there should be very little doubt that a fight between Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping at any point during Silva's reign would have ended in disaster for Bisping. As discussed above, during their prime years Michael Bisping was a predictable, limited fighter and Andy Silver was a virtuosic violence conductor performing a symphony of blunt force trauma on fools, especially ones he could easily time. An aggressively diminished Silva still kind of KO'd the best technical version of Michael Bisping. A prime Anderson puts Bisping in a pine box.

What was his best performance? What highlight reel fight of his should I watch?

It's hard to say definitively because he spent so much of his time thumping inferior fighters and even in his good wins he always showed some real liabilities. I'm going to say his victory over Anderson Silva because it is the pinnacle of his MMA journey. Also that 4th round is the perfect microcosm of his career where, after getting almost walk off KO'd, he recovered and got right back in Anderson's face putting volume on him.

As far as highlights go, Dan Henderson sending him to Valhalla with the right hand of doom because that is one of the best highlights in MMA history and all of Bisping's KO's are thoroughly unspectacular.

Who do you wish he had fought but never did (aside from the champion)?

It surprises me that he and Rich Franklin never got to mix it up though I'm fairly confident Franklin's left body kick would have chewed Bisping up. Bisping had trouble with southpaws and kicks in general and body kicks were particularly effective.

Also, a Nick Diaz fight would've been unbelievable in both build up and in ring action.

Any final thoughts?

Though Michael Bisping has been in many fun fights over his career (4 Fight of the Night Awards) I doubt there will be any of them I tell my children about. He is one of the rare fighters that the stats basically bear out what his in ring ability was. Every individual facet of his game was slightly above average except his cardio which was through the roof. He was never going to blow your doors off but he was imminently solid, pretty well rounded, and a tough out for all but the most elite.

But what makes Bisping so memorable is his personality. Yes he got a huge marketing push because of his nationality and by virtue of being a TUF winner, but at a time where the UFC was desperate for marketable stars Michael Bisping did something that so many MMA fighters seem incapable of doing: he had opinions. Lots of them. Usually involving some slight or indiscretion (or PED condemnation). It was brash and arrogant and often times wildly un self-aware, but it was certainly provocative and MMA can always use that type of provocation.

In one of his fights Joe Rogan called Michael Bisping the most underrated fighter in the UFC and I strongly disagree. Bisping has always been very properly rated as a fighter solidly in the top 10 but definitively not in the top 5. He beat the guys he was supposed to beat and lost to the guys he should lose to (the exception here being Anderson Silva). He is not a great athlete and has real deficiencies but he makes the most out of what he does have and that deserves high praise. All that anyone can ever ask of you is to give your best effort and Michael Bisping unreservedly did that.

We tip our cap to you Mr. Bisping and welcome to the Hall.

***This is a continuing series where a new member will be inducted every week.