Not many sit on the fence when it comes to Michael Bisping.
Hugely popular in England, he might as well have an evil twin brother when it comes to the U.S. The cocky Brit rubs many the wrong way this side of the Atlantic, where it seems the majority of fight fans either don’t get him or like him.
Bisping (20-3) doesn’t much care.
If anything, he’s ready to take the Bisping brand up a notch as he faces Japanese middleweight Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-1 with two no contests) in the main event of UFC 120 on Saturday at London’s O2 Arena.
Watch UFC 120 live on Sportsnet ONE at 3 p.m. ET / noon PT. Sportsnet is the only place in North America to watch it live and only place in Canada to watch it in high definition.
Bisping, 31, says it’s time to show he is a fighter to be feared in the middleweight ranks.
“I went in there with Wanderlei Silva, I’ve been in there with (Dan) Henderson, Rashad Evans, people like that,” Bisping told The Canadian Press.
“In the past, I was kind of like ‘Well if I go in there and get to a decision and this and that, I’d be happy with that.’ But I’m past that, I couldn’t care less about that. I been in the ring with legends now. I’ve fought them. I’ve been around a bit now. Now it’s (time) for people to start worrying about me and fearing me. And it’s time for me to become one of those guys. And I truly believe I can.
“I’ve beat (Dan) Miller (last time out at UFC 114), I’m going to beat Akiyama and I want a top name after that, fingers crossed, if I do the business (Saturday). Then it’s got to be a title shot after that, I think.”
The winner of Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Bisping is 9-3 in the UFC — and 5-0 fighting in England. His only losses are a split decision to Evans as a light-heavyweight at UFC 78 — a fight that convinced him to move down to middleweight — a brutal knockout at the hands of Henderson at UFC 100 and a unanimous decision to Silva at UFC 110 in Sydney, Australia.
Bisping calls the Silva decision “bullshit,” suggesting the local judges (the UFC used a mixed of Australian and American officials) did not appreciate wrestling and may have been influenced by the pro-Silva crowd.
“I hit Wanderlei with a few big massive punches and there’d be no reaction from the crowd,” Bisping said. “Wanderlei would barely make contact with me, with like a slap or something, and the entire arena would burst into fits of excitement.
“So I think that might possibly have swayed them as well.”
Bisping is no whiner, but he is a talker. In and outside the cage, he’s a bundle of energy. That coupled with his physical talents and mental drive have taken from working on an assembly line making furniture back in 2003 to becoming the face of English MMA.
Quitting his job in January 2004, he started commuting from his home in Clitheroe near Liverpool in northwestern England to spend the week training with an old coach in Nottingham. Money was so tight he sometimes slept in his car, a battered Volvo 440, returning home on the weekends to see his family and make some cash by DJ’ing.
Times have changed. Bisping is a marquee fighter with a proudly maintained website (http://bisping.tv/) and, when needed, a personal videographer to document his career.
Thanks to sharing a manager with former light-heavyweight champion Quinton (Rampage) Jackson — who played B.A. Baracus in the remake of “The A-Team” — the charismatic Brit now also has a fledgling acting portfolio.
His first role was in the film “Beatdown,” released earlier this year on DVD. While he does play a former MMA champion, the role was big enough that he engaged an acting coach.
“I was expecting to do a couple of fight scenes, whatever, and when the script came through was quite shocked to see the level of the acting involved,” he said.
Next week, viewers in Britain will see him in “Hollyoaks Later,” a week-long spinoff of a popular soap.
He plays Nathan. “A bit of a bad boy,” he explains, adding with a laugh: “A bad boy with a heart, I’d say.”
Life is good for Bisping, who has three children with his partner Rebecca.
“I’m living the dream, the moment, to be honest,” he said. “My life couldn’t get any better. I’m very fortunate. .. . Long may it continue.
“But I do realize it can all end, just like that. Get complacent and get your ass kicked a couple of times and you’re gone. That’s what keeps me training so hard.”
To that end, he has revamped his striking training and brought in a strength and conditioning coach.
“I do get a lot of criticism regarding my punching power. People say I have no punching power,” he said. “I think for a while there I did start backing up a bit too much. That was because I fought a lot of wrestlers back-to-back.
“I’ve got a lot more confidence in my power,” he added. “I regularly spar boxers and I’m beating them at their own game.”
Not that he expects his detractors in North America to take notice.
“When I’m out in the States, when I meet people, I’ve never had a bad experience, people have always been fine,” he said. “On the Internet, if you read that, you’d think I was the most hated man in the country. I’ve just come to accept it.”
Bisping acknowledges he “said and did a few things maybe when I was younger” that he shouldn’t have.
He was outspoken after winning a decision over Matt Hamill at UFC 75 that many thought he didn’t deserve. And he was abrasive as coach of the U.K. team on Season 9 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“The whole TUF 9 thing didn’t help,” he said. “They perceived me as being anti-American, which isn’t the case. But you know, I just keep doing what I’m doing and I’m not going to change. I’m the same person I’ve always been really.
“Fingers crossed, hopefully one day they come back on board. If not, then as long as they tune in to see me get my ass kicked, then that’s a good thing as well. As long as people show emotion — which I’m quite happy about. They’re either booing me really badly, because they want to see me get knocked out or they’re cheering really loudly. For me that’s perfect, as long as it’s one or another. As long as I don’t come out and just get a half-hearted clap, ‘Oh yeah, this guy.”‘
He knows respect will come by winning — in style.
“I’ve got to take my respect, people aren’t certainly going to give it to me. I’ve had it all the way through. People used to say ‘Oh he’s from The Ultimate Fighter, so they’re giving him easy opponents.’ And now it’s like ‘Oh he’s useless, and all this and that.’
“It isn’t the case. I’ve consistently been fighting the best guys out there and I think I’m doing pretty well. My record’s 9-3 in the UFC. And as I’ve said two of those losses are very debatable decisions. But it’s up to me, I need to start putting these guys away now, I’ve talked the talk. It’s time to put up or shut up.
“I believe now I’ve matured as a fighter, I’m coming into my prime. A year or two ago, I didn’t realize it at the time but there were a lot of holes and mistakes in my game. Obviously Dan Henderson exposed that. And I had to go back to basics with my boxing and neaten all that up. My defence is a lot better now, I’m happy with my wresting, my strength and conditioning has gone through the roof, I really want to make a run at the belt.”
A win over Akiyama wouldn’t hurt although the former star judoka has mostly shown grit in his two previous UFC fights.
He won a close decision over Alan (The Talent) Belcher at UFC 100 and was submitted in a barnburner with Chris (The Crippler) Leben at UFC 116.
Both contests won fight-of-the-night bonuses.
Leben was a replacement for the injured Silva and Akiyama later admitted that the change in opponent cost him.
The 35-year-old Japanese fighter is a good grappler who has no problems mixing it up on his feet.
Full of style, he comes to entertain.
English welterweight Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy, who faces Carlos Condit in the co-main event Saturday, marvels at Akiyama’s star quality.
“He really carries himself like a superstar. He’s very, very cool,” said Hardy, no slouch when it comes to style himself.
“I was actually at his last fight with Chris Leben and it was just a fantastic atmosphere, the whole fight,” he added. “It was amazing from the moment Chris Leben walked out into the arena. He had Red Hot Chili Peppers blasting out and then Akiyama came out to something very, very different. It was just a very interesting and very entertaining 20 minutes. And they both gave everything in the fight.
“Although Akiyama didn’t come out with the win, I think he gained a lot of fans and a lot of respect just because of the way he conducted himself and I think that the U.K. fans will appreciate him just as much.”
Akiyama will walk out to his traditional choice, the elegant and soothing strains of “Time to Say Goodbye” sung by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. Bisping has opted for Blur’s up-tempo “Song 2″ in England in the past, although he has been toying with another choice this time.
NOTES: All fighters made weight Friday, with Bisping and Akiyama both on the number at 185. Toronto’s Claude Patrick weighed in at 171 for his main card bout against England’s James Wilks (170), while fellow Canadian Mark Holst of Ottawa and newcomer Paul Sass, from Liverpool, both hit the scale at 155 for their preliminary bout. … Steve Cantwell was forced to pull out of his fight against Stanislav Nedkov because of a knee injury, according to Fighters Only. Cantwell was reportedly hurt during a training sesssion Thursday night. Because it happened last minute with both fighters already in London, no replacement will be found and the bout was scrapped, but they will receive their “show” money.