The former middleweight champion of the world Michael Bisping announced his retirement from the sport of MMA today after a 12-year stint in the UFC, so with that in mind, how exactly does his career stack up against the rest?
I suppose the first question to consider is, what exactly defines a great fighter and a fine career?
I think if you ask any fan of the sport they would be hard-pressed to deny Bisping his status as a legend and a candidate for Hall of Fame honours. Well, maybe not if you’re asking Luke Rockhold, but still.
To make things easier, we’re going to look at Bisping’s career under a few different categories because, despite his years of meandering around the top-15 of the UFC’s middleweight division, when everything is collected and compiled into one picture, the end result is pretty conclusive.
At 20-9 within the UFC, he might not have had the consistency of a GSP or a Jon Jones but in those nine losses, only Chael Sonnen and Kelvin Gastelum stood amongst those who weren’t former or future UFC, PRIDE or Strikeforce champions. At 18 wins, Bisping ties Donald Cerrone and the aforementioned St-Pierre for the UFC all-time record and at 29 fights, has stepped into the octagon more times than anyone to ever do it.
Wins over Luke Rockhold, Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva, Cung Le and Jason Miller were among the highlights for the Count and while his late-career resurgence was by far his most successful period, the heads he collected over the years will continue to read well on paper long after he is gone.
It’s funny how Michael Bisping was often pointed to as the sport’s finest fighter to never receive a title shot and for a while, it seemed as though that would be the story of the Manchester-native. Always falling short at the final hurdle, against both Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson in 185lb title-eliminators he managed to miss out on getting the nod.
Fate seemed to work in Bisping’s favour, however, and when an injury to the former-champ Chris Weidman ruled him out of his UFC 199 rematch with Luke Rockhold, he managed to pull off the unthinkable and KO the heavily-favoured champ, taking the belt and completing one of the most insane comeback careers of all-time. Sure, his one successful title-defense was against an ageing Dan Henderson but all in all, winning the belt is more than most have managed.
Points for personality cannot be understated here. Creating investment from fans who you are hoping will tune in require a bit more than saying ‘yea, the training camp was great, I feel confident I can get the win.’ Bringing home victories is all well and good but if you can endear yourself to fans it can be a route to future opportunities inside and outside of the sport.
Love him or hate him, Michael Bisping is and was one of the most vibrant and witty fighters around and despite his recent decision to hang up his gloves, has ensured that he will have a long career in the public eye with roles in movies, on the analyst desk and a spot on his popular podcast Believe You Me still very much in the pipeline.
Diego Sanchez, John Lineker, Justin Gaethje, Leonard Garcia. All fighters who never have or more-than-likely never will win a UFC belt, all things considered, but, depending on who you ask – each are as memorable as any fighter who can display fantastic technique to assure success.
Entertainment value can be as important as any win-streak, title defense or performance record and with relentless cardio, constant pressure and numerous Performance of the Night awards to show for it, Bisping always turns up to fight. As a two-time coach on the Ultimate Fighter, a legendary trash-talker and a constant voice in the MMA community, he has established himself enough outside of the octagon so that when the time comes to fight, he can remind you once again why his brash exterior comes second to his proven ability to thrill when the octagon doors close.
Here’s the thing. Bisping’s abilities as a fighter were most certainly below that of a truly elite level fighter, but in a way, that was what made his UFC 199 victory over Luke Rockhold so special. With his whole career now in focus, does Bisping compare to a José Aldo or a BJ Penn on a technical level? Absolutely not. Does he measure up to some of the other fighters who have failed to capture UFC titles over the years? To be honest, who knows!
Technical skill didn’t get Bisping to the dance and technical skill did not earn him his popularity but with that being said, discounting his 20 wins as a consequence of consistent activity and grit isn’t exactly fair either. Some fighters just have that extra gear that allows them to win and while you can easily point at holes in this stubborn Brit’s game, luck will only get you so far and to tie both GSP and Cowboy Cerrone on wins is no easy feat.
So where exactly can we place Bisping within that upper-echelon of those who try their hand in the UFC?
Well, he won’t be remembered in the same vein as the pound-for-pound greats such as the St-Pierre’s, the Silva’s, or the Aldo’s but as an icon, as a recognizable face for the sport, as a pioneer in both British and European MMA and most importantly as a testament to what you can achieve no matter how long the odds are, I think it’s fair to say that The Count is in his own category.
He defied expectation up until the very end, went out on his shield in brutal fashion and at this stage, you cannot deny him his status as a bonafide legend of mixed martial arts.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena