In the past four years, the world of MMA has changed dramatically. Champions have come and gone. Divisions are practically unrecognizable compared to what they once were. But for one of the sport’s most quotable and well known stars, the view remains remarkably similar. Michael Bisping treks on, hoping to receive a long awaited title shot at perennial UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
After winning the third season of the Ultimate Fighter, Bisping quickly became one of the UFC’s most highly touted young stars, pegged for future superstardom. By any measure, Bisping’s UFC career has been a success. He sports a 12-4 UFC record, with his only losses coming to elite fighters Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen. But the timing has never been right for Bisping to accomplish his ultimate goal: a shot at the UFC title. He is one of only two fighters in the history of the UFC to win 12 times but never fight for the title (Chris Leben, the other, has a 12-7 record against markedly inferior opposition).
On September 22 at UFC 152, Bisping will once again look to climb back into contention for a shot at Silva. Standing in his way is a most natural opponent: Brian Stann. Bisping is a fighter that American fans have come to love to hate: a cocky Brit not shy about talking some trash in the name of entertainment. By contrast, Stann is a former US Marine and Silver Star recipient for his courage in the second Iraq war.
While US vs. Britain makes for a natural story heading into the fight, Bisping plays down that aspect of the fight. Bisping moved to the United States with his family in 2011, training in Southern California. Moreover, the fight will take place in the neutral ground of Canada.
“I’m excited to fight in Canada,” Stann told the Times. “The last time I fought there in Montreal, the fans were fantastic. You could make this out to be USA vs. UK, but I love America. My family is very happy to be here. UFC isn’t a team sport. It’s an individual sport. This is Bisping vs. Stann and I hope people see that. I just want a good fight and I’m sure people will enjoy it.”
Stylistically, it’s an intriguing matchup. Both men have primarily utilized their striking to win fights. However, they deploy different standup approaches. Stann leans heavily on his boxing and natural power, scoring knockouts in 9 of his 12 wins. Bisping, by contrast, is a more versatile striker who relies on cardio and volume striking. Bisping’s power has frequently been called into question, although he has finished his opponent in 18 of his 22 wins. An X factor is the fighters’ respective ground games, which are rarely utilized in an offensive manner.
“He’s a very, very good opponent,” Bisping said. “He’s solid in the standup, which is where he’s the strongest. He has great one punch power. But my chin is up to that challenge. I can take those punches. And I think he will have difficulty landing. You can’t go into the rain and not get wet and you can’t go into the cage and not get hit. But I think I’m the better technical striker and have a massive advantage in wrestling and jiu jitsu. I know he’s working with a wrestler. I’m assuming that’s for takedown defense as opposed to offensive. But I haven’t seen that many improvements in him and I’m always changing and evolving. If I fight to the best of my ability, I win this fight 9 times out of 10.”
Stann trains out of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn’s camp in New Mexico, which has become one of the most polarizing (and successful) camps in MMA. Jackson has taken a massive amount of criticism over the course of the year. His fighters have been criticized for conservative gameplans, with Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard receiving particular scorn from some fans.
That criticism only got hotter in the aftermath of the cancellation of UFC 151, when Jackson recommended Jon Jones not accept a short notice fight with Chael Sonnen. UFC president Dana White accused Jackson of ruining the sport. All the tumult will place a focus on Jackson’s fighters at UFC 152. Bisping for his part doesn’t view Jackson as that central of a figure.
“To be honest, I don’t think about it too much,” Bisping said. “I don’t think Jackson has that much of a reflection on the way his fighters fight. He likes to think of himself as a professor but when you’re out there, you just fight. Just because you have some smug ... in your corner with a cocky grin on his face doesn’t make that much of a difference. The fighters are in there doing the fighting, not Greg Jackson.”
If Bisping can defeat Stann, he could find himself in the mix for an upcoming title shot against Anderson Silva. Bisping lost his last fight to Chael Sonnen, but it was a competitive fight that many felt could have gone the other way. Chris Weidman is also in contention for a potential shot after an impressive win over Mark Munoz. Other potential contenders include Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch. Bisping feels he matches up well against anyone in the division.
“There are a good bunch of contenders,” Bisping noted. “I think I beat Stann and I beat Belcher. I think I beat Boetsch, too. He’s a bit of a Muppet. Weidman is the big one. I don’t buy into the hype. I had no idea who Weidman was up until he fought Demian Maia because he’d been fighting on undercards against bums. When he fought Maia, it was one of the most pitiful fights I’ve ever seen. Then Mark Munoz came in and looked terrible. Weidman definitely looked good but I thought Munoz looked terrible.
“I’ve never thought Munoz was that good. He’s got terrible boxing, good wrestling and no chin. Just because you can take someone down and use what he calls Donkey Kong punches, get out of here. And you saw how he did against someone good. He got knocked out of there. Anyone who describes his punches as Donkey Kong punches I don’t respect in MMA. They’re all decent fighters but I think I match up well with all of them.”
When Bisping gets going, it’s easy to understand why his fights always generate fan interest. In a sport where fighters are increasingly hesitant to say anything that might provide motivation to an opponent, Bisping is a breath of fresh air. He’s not afraid of speaking his mind in the bluntest manner, but he takes the sting out of his words with a hearty chuckle that makes it clear he’s just having a good time.
Fights come and go for Bisping, drumming up interest while preparing to perform at top level. But one opponent still lingers in the mind. Bisping still hasn’t had the chance to test himself against the best fighter in the world. Until that fight comes, it will feel as if a career is incomplete.
“Through the last few years, I’ve always been a fight or two away,” Bisping said. “It’s easy to sit there and hypothesize how to fight the best fighter in the world. Everyone does and they all come up short. You’ve got to better than him, hit him more times than he hits you. He’s an amazing fighter and the greatest of all time. But I think I can give him problems. People just want to take him down or give him too much respect. Vitor Belfort has the skills to stand with him but got caught up in the moment. He gave Anderson the room he needs to use his tricks. You’ve got to get in his face and make it dirty.”
Bisping is confident, but not unrealistic.
“That’s easier said than done, of course.”