Michael Bisping’s maiden defence of the UFC middleweight title served as a microcosm for the Brit’s chronicled career.
In a decade long pursuit of UFC gold, the 37-year-old has exhibited just about every emotion, trait and ability a fighter can display.
And they all manifested during a 25-minute war with Dan Henderson in the main event of UFC 204 in Manchester yesterday.
The 46-year-old detonated his famed and feared ‘H-Bomb’ – twice – on Bisping’s chin, but contrary to their first meeting at UFC 100 in 2009, the champ remained conscious. But only just. All the talk leading up to the fight was of the necessity for Bisping to avoid the weathered weapon which is Henderson’s big overhand right.
Yet, the Briton was tentative in the opening stanza, disconcerted like a man forced to pick between the red or blue wire.
And he eventually paid for it, lingering within range late in the round and allowing Henderson to uncork a shuddering right-hand.
The ground-and-pound finish was far less accurate, though, and Bisping was able to climb back from oblivion to survive the round.
That was the first show of tremendous heart from the champion. Roared on by a crowd which had erupted from the drowsy state of a 05:00 start time, Bisping eventually found his rhythm and the combinations from right to left to knees to kicks were beginning to flow. But then it only takes one shot to change the complexion entirely and once again Henderson landed big at the end of the second round with only lethargy robbing him of a finish on the ground.
Similar to the Anderson Silva victory in February, Bisping was forced to dig deep and he made adjustments, just like he has throughout his whole career, to strike with speed and exit before the counter came. The fourth was much of the same with Bisping on top, drawing level on the scorecards heading into a fifth which saw the challenger empty the tank and the champion remain composed to cling onto the belt. The scars, though, particularly beneath a heavily bloated left-eye will ensure Bisping doesn’t forget this war anytime soon.
And neither will Henderson. The American confirmed that despite his obvious ability to still hang with the very best in the 185lbs division, that the Manchester Arena was his final stage as a professional MMA fighter.
“Unfortunately, that was the last one,” Henderson said. “It will have to be an ‘L’ on my record but I left it all in there and I felt like I did everything I needed to do to win that fight. Unfortunately, everybody didn’t see it that way.”
Bisping, wasn’t seeing much of anything after the fight as he was forced to skip press conference duties to visit the hospital. Nevertheless, ‘The Count’ showed once again why you simply can’t count him out. Dogged determination, strikes in volume and ultimately cardio got him victory.
It also won him the hearts of a nation.
“The support you guys show me every time melts my heart,” said Bisping said in the Octagon after extending his streak to five for the first time in his career while also notching his 20th UFC win, a record for the promotion. “Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
“I know people spoke ‘oh he’s not No1 contender or anything’. This guy knocked me out cold. Worst knockout in UFC history. The jitters that I had this week, it’s all well and good having bravado but stepping in here, look at my face for crying out loud. That took a lot of courage for me to do that.”
It did, but then Bisping’s shown that and more throughout his career.