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09th Oct 2016

COMMENT: Michael Bisping is a villain no more; he’s a role model, an inspiration, a champion

A very unlikely hero

Ben Kiely

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts,” – Winston Churchill.

It has been said a million different ways by a million different people, but the essence of success is the ability bounce back from failure. Few know defeat’s nauseating stench quite like Michael Bisping, and even fewer have managed to not let their enthusiasm wane each time the miasma fills their nostrils.

Bisping seemed destined to be a failure. In his youth he was pegged as a future champion, but setback after setback had the cognoscenti writing him off as a choker who always stumbled at the crucial final hurdle.

This public perception began forming when the cocky Clitheroe combatant with the shaven head faced a true legend of the sport whose power was feared and revered by everyone – the incomparable Dan Henderson.

To the victor went the spoils of a title-shot against champion Anderson Silva. Superstar Brock Lesnar’s presence made it the most high-profile card in the promotion’s history, with a record-breaking number of fight fans reaching into their pockets to buy the pay-per-view.

The world was watching as the brash-mouthed Brit suffered the most embarrassing loss of his career. The H-Bomb landed with a thunderous bang, and it was followed up with another one “to keep his mouth shut.”

Henderson Bisping KO

Humbled, he travelled all the way back to square one.

Seven fights later, he received his second shot at securing the elusive Silva fight by booking another title eliminator, this time against the charismatic Chael Sonnen.

His arrogant antics on the Ultimate Fighter, the infamous spitting incident during the Jorge Rivera fight and the American Gangster’s heroic showing against the Spider at UFC 117 meant he was resigned to the villain role. He was booed during Bruce Buffer’s introduction and lost by split decision. Sonnen got the nod, Bisping had to relaunch again.

Two fights later, Vitor Belfort nearly ended his career. His seismic head kick in the second round left him with a detached retina and a nasty battle-scar that will forever mark his face. As Bisping would later explain, anything that could go wrong with an eye, went wrong with the eye that felt the full force of the Brazilian’s shin.

Vitor KO Bisping

Bisping may have went down, but he came back up swinging.

After a few more fights, he again found himself on the cusp of a title shot when he was paired up against former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold. His record may have been patchy, but a win over the genetic freak would have undoubtedly thrust him right back into title-contention.

He held his own in the early exchanges, but a clash of heads changed the course of the fight. He lost focus of the task at hand, complained to the referee to acknowledge the foul and didn’t look the same for the rest of the contest. In the next round, Rockhold dropped him with a monstrous head kick and finished him off with a one-armed guillotine.

Another embarrassment. How many chances can one guy get?

Rockhold taps Bisping

The title-shot may not have presented itself, but that didn’t discourage him from chasing his dream. Two-straight wins and he finally got his marquee fight against Silva. Although there was no belt up for grabs as the Brazilian had been dethroned by Chris Weidman, the opportunity to beat a once-invincible legend was as good as any 12-lb strap for the Count.

He dominated the fight on the feet, rocked Silva and had come close to finishing him. Then his mouth-piece fell-out, his concentration escaped him as he gestured towards the referee and Silva pounced. He was sent crashing down to the canvas by a monstrous flying knee. Silva raised his hands to the sky in triumph, but it wasn’t over yet.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Anderson Silva of Brazil starts to celebrate his victory believing that he had knocked out Michael Bisping of Great Britain during the Middleweight Bout of the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on February 27, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

For once, fortune favoured the Count as the buzzer sounding for the end of the round at the very moment Silva landed the devastating blow kept him in the fight. Dazed, bruised, bloodied he trudged back to his stool. Through sheer grit, heart and determination fueled by past failures he slugged it out until the final bell and secured a career-defining win.

An unlikely prize for his biggest scalp would be a title shot against former adversary Rockhold. However, this time the odds were firmly stacked against him.

Chris Weidman pulled out of UFC 199’s main event on extremely short notice due to injury and there was dearth of suitable contenders to take his spot. Jacare was thought to be the front-runner to step in, but a meniscus injury ruled him out leaving only one man left deserving of the role.

Bisping rushed off the set of the sequel to XXX and went straight into the media cycle for his first title fight after nearly a decade in the promotion. Rockhold kept bringing up their previous encounter, Bisping commended him for finishing him the first time, but maintained that the outcome to this fight would be different.

During the build-up Rockhold laughed off Bisping’s claim that winning the belt was “his destiny”. At the post-fight press conference following his first round knockout loss, he confessed that “destiny was a bitch.”

INGLEWOOD, CA - JUNE 04: Michael Bisping hugs his daughter Ellie Bisping after defeating Luke Rockhold in their Middleweight Title Bout at UFC 199 at The Forum on June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

It was poetic that his first defence as UFC champion would come against Henderson, the same man who humiliated him in front of the masses seven years previously. Getting back that loss proved to be highly symbolic of how much Bisping had matured through years of hardship, particularly when you consider how he managed to beat Hendo at UFC 204.

Hendo’s ferocity is reminiscent to that of Cú Chulainn. According to the folklore, the Irish warrior tied himself to a standing stone to die on his feet facing his enemies, and it was only when a raven landed on his shoulders that his foes deemed it safe to move in.

Even at 46, Hendo still has that one-strike knockout blow in his arsenal, that’s how he managed to shut Hector Lombard’s lights out to seal the Bisping rematch and it’s what almost won him the belt in the early exchanges. Anyone who doubted the powers of the ageing veteran’s overhand right were proven wrong when it landed flush and dropped the champion to the mat on multiple occasions.

However, with all those past disappointments left his heart heart tough and calloused. He dug deep, remained calm and weathered each passing storm. When the final bell sounded he was still standing, and he the belt was wrapped around his waist again.

If you’re not a fan of the Count, so be it. It’s human nature to elect our villains and heroes in order to liven up the spirit of competition. But remember that he set out to achieve a goal and each time he had dirt kicked in his face, he rose back to his feet and kept pushing forward until he reached the supposedly unreachable destination.

His tale is a success story, and that’s plain for all to see.

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