Blood, sweat, tears and controversy. Michael Bisping’s landmark victory over Anderson Silva had all the ingredients of an instant classic.
The Englishman brought the absolute best version of himself to earn a unanimous decision against arguably the greatest of all time – although that version appears a distant memory now.
Some will contest it, but no one will deny that Bisping has earned this. It’s a victory a decade in the making. One that will leave indelible scars lasting just as long, adding to a collection of indistinguishable marks from 25 bouts in the UFC.
Bisping, though, will happily trade, for it edges him closer to what he has chased his entire MMA career: a shot at UFC gold.
“I don’t dwell on the past,” Bisping told Sport360 in the lead up to the fight. “I just try and make opportunities for the future.”
Well, that opportunity, one richly deserved, may just come now.
Forever considered a top-10 fighter, ‘The Count’ has always fallen short when it mattered most, losing at a crucial time and bound by the label of best ever not to fight for a title. And while gold wasn’t on the line in London’s 02 Arena, he cemented something that will add the shine to his storied career regardless – his legacy.
“I always knew I could beat the guy and I did that,” he told MMAFighting.com. “I’ve been here many, many times but if I could sum up the emotion, it’s relief. It’s always relief. Obviously I have my critics and I’m a certain age now so people are trying to write me off.
“So it’s relief, for now. I did it and I overcame that hurdle and I proved to everyone I could do it but before we know it I’ll be back in that position again.”
The battle will long be discussed. Bisping was a riddle the Silva just couldn’t solve. It wasn’t flashy but he showed great fundamentals, pressuring the 40-year-old with relentless volume, pace and footwork.
It was a simple gameplan but an effective weapon when perpetually applied. Yes, Silva clearly out-damaged his foe, but he was consistently out-fought, inactive when it counted.
At times it was vintage ‘Spider’, picking Bisping apart and landing with effective strikes. But the reflexes and chin are worn. He was getting hit. Bisping quite clearly took the first two rounds, wobbling him in the first, dropping him in the second.
Then, things turned bizarre. In the third stanza, Bisping lost his mouthpiece and gesticulated with referee Herb Dean to put it back in. Silva capitalised, launching a vicious flying knee that landed flush on Bisping’s jaw. He thought the fight was over, many in attendance did, too. Bisping didn’t even seem to know where he was. But he gathered his senses and did what he has done throughout his career – he came back.
“I, of course, wanted to get back in there,” he said. “Whilst I have a breath in my body, I will always continue trying to fight. I felt fine.”
He didn’t look it, though. Blood streamed from his face, yet, he kept coming forward and won the fourth.
The Brazilian snapped a devastating front kick to the face in the fifth and took the final round. But it wasn’t enough. He didn’t do enough.
That’s a criticism no one can ever lay at Bisping’s feet. He’s more than done enough and now it’s time for his shot at gold. One imagines no gift was needed for the man who turned 37 yesterday. He’s already got it.
The judges each scored the fight 48-47 in favour of Bisping, who now has a record of 29-7.
He is now ranked seventh in the division, while Silva is fifth but winless since October 2012.
“I worship this guy,” said Bisping of Silva post-fight. “This guy is the greatest martial artist of all-time. This has been a lifelong quest. Anderson, thank you.”
“The mission was given and I thought the mission was completed, but I guess not,” said the 40-year-old Silva, a future Hall of Famer who reigned over the division from 2006 to 2013.
If Michael Bisping is as deceptive with his hands as he was at Friday night’s spirited weigh-in, he will fancy his chances against Brazilian legend Anderson Silva.
The former UFC middleweight champion and perennial top contender square off in London’s O2 Arena on Saturday evening (main card starts at 01:00 UAE time) with the simmering heat between the pair sure to reach boiling point.
Bisping, who is undefeated as a professional in the UK, has been on the offensive for what is Silva’s first fight since a drug suspension and he didn’t miss one final chance to land a verbal blow before fists fly.
“This man is a cheat,” a fired-up Bisping said after weighing in at 186lbs. “This man is a fraud. And I will make you pay for your mistakes tomorrow night my friend.
“All the needles in your a**, all the steroids will not help you, you p****.”
Throughout the week, Silva has ignored Bisping’s offer to shake hands, though, when the Brazilian put his hand out it was the Englishman who refused. But “The Spider” was unmoved and reiterated, after weighing in at 186lbs, his desire to fight for the title again.
Silva has said repeatedly leading up to this fight that he’s interested in making one more run at the belt and Bisping is the stepping stone to help him get there.
“I think so,” Silva said. “I’ve been working hard for this one. I think this fight Saturday night is good for me, good for Bisping. Let’s go.”
Current 185lbs champ Luke Rockhold will be an interested spectator this evening, with the winner tipped to face either himself or Chris Weidman after their June rematch at UFC 199.
And Rockhold says he would relish the opportunity to defend the belt against Bisping, having beaten the Brit in 2014.
“It was one of my most comfortable fights,” he told the Daily Mail. “But it’s always good getting into a bickering battle with Bisping. “I always enjoy that, and to shut his mouth at the end of it always feels good.”