Say this much for Michael Bisping: The man is a professional.
From the outside looking in, it’d be easy to greet Bisping’s latest assignment with one of the brash Brit’s trademark sneers. Cung Le? In China? As the headliner of an early-morning fight card airing only on the UFC’s Internet subscription service?
Surely Bisping deserves better than that.
Granted, he’s had a tough go of it recently, scuffling to a 2-3 record since the beginning of 2012. But after eight years and 20 fights as one of the UFC’s most polarizing figures, this seems decidedly beneath his station.
Don’t tell that to Bisping, though. He’s still out there giving it the old university try.
Over the years, The Ultimate Fighter 3's light heavyweight winner has managed to feud with such otherwise inoffensive entities as Jorge Rivera, Dan Henderson and Alan Belcher, to name just a few.
This week, he’s even beefed a little bit with Le—as affable and vanilla a fighter as you’ll find—in advance of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 48 main event.
“He hasn’t fought in a couple of years, so I’m guessing his profile has dipped, he’s probably not getting too many embarrassing kung-fu movie offers right now and—probably worst of all for him—Channing Tatum has stopped retweeting him," Bisping said in an email shared with Bleacher Report’s Jeremy Botter. "I’m going to put a beating on him, and he can disappear again back to B-movies."
See? Bisping has traditionally been one of the UFC’s more bankable commodities because he’s willing to add some sizzle to nearly any matchup. He’s the consummate company man, an unflappable agent provocateur.
True to form, he’s giving Le the business despite the fact that Covers indicates he’ll go off as a 4-13 favorite in a bout that comparatively few fans will even get to see.
So well-honed is Bisping’s penchant for trash talk, so superhuman his ability to perceive insults—those real, and imagined—that he’s spent nearly every second of his UFC career inspiring fight fans to experience real human emotion.
It’s still nearly impossible to remain neutral about him, no matter how far his star has dipped or how out-of-the-blue this particular matchmaking may seem.
He carries on in spite—or maybe because of—the fact that, at 35 years old and entering what will likely be the final years of his career, his standing in the UFC middleweight division has taken a considerable hit.
As of this writing, Bisping is as far away from true contender status as he's ever been during his UFC run, and it’s unclear whether merely defeating Le improves on that.
Certainly, a "W" would be better than the alternative, but beating a 42-year-old part-timer who hasn’t fought in nearly two years doesn’t exactly sound like a cure-all.
Bisping and Le may have the proper stand-up styles to make this an entertaining scrap—it’ll be Le’s flash against Bisping’s pace and persistence—but it should amount to a walk in the park for the younger man.
That means if he hopes to one day recapture the momentum he enjoyed in 2010-11, if he ever means to fight his way back into contention—not to mention, back on TV and pay-per-view—Bisping needs to do more than just win. He needs to impress.
It felt as though Ryan Bader let a similar opportunity slip through his fingers last week against Ovince St. Preux. Bader won the UFC Fight Night 47 main event—even dominated most of it—but walked away with a fairly tepid unanimous decision.
In the aftermath, it’s been easy to shortchange him as a limited fighter who isn’t worthy of rejoining the light heavyweight elite.
To avoid a similar fate here, Bisping will have to do something better. If he rides his high-volume but low-impact kickboxing attack to a 25-minute decision against Le, it’ll be too easy to dismiss it as “typical Bisping.”
Instead, he likely needs to craft the sort of dominating stoppages we saw from him against overmatched opponents like Rivera and Jason Miller.
If he can do that, it would go a long to way to proving he still deserves high-profile fights against relevant middleweight contenders.
If he can’t, then all the businesslike trash talk in the world probably won’t return him to his former glory.