Michael Bisping was already one of the promotion’s longest tenured and most decorated fighters prior to UFC 199. However, when it came to the middleweight championship picture, he was a perpetual bridesmaid.
On more than occasion, “The Count” was seemingly one step away from a title shot, only to see that opportunity snatched from his grasp in cruel and spectacular fashion. After a lopsided loss to Luke Rockhold at UFC Fight Night 55 in November 2014, it appeared that Bisping might be relegated to a gatekeeper role for the rest of his tenure. The cocksure Englishman never lost his resolve, however. Bisping continued to defiantly tell anyone who would listen that he had not given up on his dream.
“Obviously, I’m always as motivated as I possibly can be going into every fight. I love doing this and I love being a part of this sport, and I love being a part of the UFC,” Bisping said after defeating C.B. Dollaway at UFC 186, just one fight removed from his loss to Rockhold. “I want to do it for a long time. Losing two in a row doesn’t go hand in hand with being one of the best in the world. I think I am. I know I can get that belt one day. I’ve just got to keep winning fights now.”
Win Bisping did. After Dollaway, he bested Thales Leites and Anderson Silva in his first extended winning streak since 2011. While the Manchester native was still probably a few wins away from a title shot, he at least appeared to be back on track. Sometimes fortune smiles on the persistent.
When Chris Weidman was forced to withdraw from a championship rematch with Rockhold at UFC 199 due to a neck injury, Bisping was more than happy to take his place. After 25 Octagon appearances, “The Count” would finally get his chance at Ultimate Fighting Championship gold. Bisping was not even the first choice: Ronaldo Souza, the promotion’s desired replacement option, was unavailable after undergoing meniscus surgery.
While Bisping saved the promotion from losing another headliner, little was expected beyond that. After all, Rockhold had dispatched him with ease in their first meeting, ultimately wobbling the Brit with a head kick before finishing him with a guillotine choke 57 seconds into Round 2. Even with his long-awaited title shot looming, Bisping was remarkably carefree in the days leading up to the rematch with Rockhold.
“Listen, all the pressure is on Luke. It’s very, very free mentally. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing. I have no pressure. I know I’m expected to lose,” Bisping said during a conference call. “The world is expecting me to lose this fight, and that’s so nice. That feels good. I haven’t had 10 weeks of evaluating footage and going through the emotional roller coasters feeling confident, feeling negative, feeling confident again and then negative again. I haven’t got time for that s---.”
For his part, Rockhold said all the right things leading up to UFC 199 on June 4, acknowledging that despite the previous result his rival “deserves this s---.” The first sign of trouble, however, came when the champion revealed during a fight-week press conference that he had been battling a torn MCL his whole camp.
“I’ve been dealing with a knee injury -- I’m not gonna lie -- this whole camp, but I don’t pull out of fights,” Rockhold said. “I fight through injuries. I don’t care what the circumstances are. I tore my MCL. I haven’t grappled this whole camp. I just started kicking last week.”
Perhaps Rockhold, who was as much as -900 favorite according to some oddsmakers, should have reconsidered. The American Kickboxing Academy product began the bout pecking away at Bisping with kicks to the leg and body. Throughout the opening moments, Rockhold held his hands dangerously low, and Bisping capitalized, first landing a left hook to the body and a left upstairs. Another left from the Englishman dropped the staggering Rockhold for good, and “The Count” punctuated his shocking victory at The Forum in Inglewood, California, with follow-up punches before referee John McCarthy halted the bout 3:36 into the period. It was Sherdog’s “Upset of the Year” for 2016.
After Rockhold thrashed Chris Weidman to claim 185-pound gold at UFC 194, many thought he would maintain a stranglehold on the division. Instead, his reign was ended before it began by a man who wasn’t supposed to be there. Bisping’s title-winning triumph, which occurred 10 years into his UFC tenure, was as much a feel-good moment as it was shocking.
Rockhold did not take defeat well, as he and the newly crowned champ squabbled during the post-fight press conference about Bisping’s sportsmanship, or lack thereof, during their Octagon exchange immediately following the knockout.
“That guy is such a dick,” he said. “You show your true colors after a fight, and that [expletive] guy comes up to me [asking], ‘Do you know where you are?’ I [expletive] picked you up off the canvas and gave you respect [in our first fight]. That guy is a piece of s--- and I want to [expletive] come kill him next time around. He’s just a maggot. Those are true colors.”
Even that bit of sour grapes could not tarnish the vindicating nature of the victory for Bisping, whose unbridled joy was easily evident as he made the media rounds the rest of the evening. When no one else believed, Bisping always did.
“I always knew I was at this level. I’ve had my ups and downs and I’ve lost some fights along the way,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the whole performance-enhancing drugs thing, but that was kind of an issue over the years; but I still believed. I still always dusted myself off and built myself back up. I know I’ve had a lot of detractors and a lot of people didn’t believe I was at that caliber. I want to thank those guys, as well; they fueled me on and lit that fire inside me. I always knew I could do this. I always knew I had punching power. I always knew I had the ability. Tonight, of course, I got to show everybody.”
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