LOS ANGELES – UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping has just about had his fill of those who claim he’s been ducking the division’s top challengers.
It’s been almost 17 months since the bombastic Brit shocked the mixed martial arts world by knocking out Luke Rockhold to claim the 185-pound belt at UFC 199.
Since then, he defeated 47-year-old Dan Henderson, then spent a year on the sidelines for various reasons, including knee surgery.
When Bisping returns to the Octagon on Nov. 4, though, it won’t be against interim champ Robert Whittaker, former champions Rockhold or Chris Weidman, or any of a number of other top middleweight contenders.
His opponent instead will be former longtime welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who returns from an absence of nearly four years to take the fight.
And while the mercurial Bisping hears the critics, his response is basically “don’t blame me.”
“That’s not my choice,” Bisping said of the GSP fight. “That’s the UFC’s choice.”
In one of those convoluted series of events that only seem to happen in mixed martial arts, the UFC announced Bisping vs. GSP early in the year without announcing an exact date, then called the fight off. But not before announcing Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero for an interim title at UFC 209, won by Whittaker via decision in one of the year’s best matchups.
Bisping was there that night in Las Vegas and ready to take on the winner.
“They offered me the fight with Yoel and you know, I went down and challenged Whittaker in the ring,” Bisping said. “I accepted the challenge of the fight, I didn’t know who it was going to be, I accepted Whittaker and Romero, it turns out Whittaker won.”
Whittaker, however, suffered a leg injury early in the Romero fight and is on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, which re-opened the door to Bisping vs. St-Pierre.
“They’re saying I’m ducking contenders, you know, I’m pretty sure I accepted a fight with Yoel and Whittaker in one night,” Bisping said. “You know what I mean? They’re the ones who couldn’t make it to the Octagon, not me.”
That’s not the only thing that’s got Bisping a bit bothered these days. With a victory over St-Pierre, the 38-year-old Bisping would own wins over both GSP and former longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva, two fighters at the top of the pound-for-pound debate for years. He’d also add to his UFC-record 20 victories.
And yet, he doesn’t seem to get recognized for those accomplishments.
“They all say, ‘Where are his top 10 wins?’ ” Bisping said. “The problem is, I’ve been in the UFC so long, they were in the top 10 when I fought them, but a lot of them are retired now. They call me a fake champion? I stopped Luke Rockhold in three minutes. It’s always been that way.”
“Say what you want,” Bisping continued. “Most wins in UFC history. Most fights in UFC history. Most significant strikes in UFC history. Headlined the most events. Current world champ. I rest my case.”
St-Pierre became one of the sport’s most beloved figures partially because of the classy manner with which he conducts himself outside the cage, but also because of the way he competed in it.
The French-Canadian star not only avenged both his career losses, but when he relinquished the welterweight title and stepped away from the sport in December of 2013, he had won 12 straight fights and 18 of 19.
But Bisping believes St-Pierre’s record has gotten more historical credit than perhaps it merits. Bisping called up Wikipedia on his phone and ran through GSP’s career record, using his roll call of opponents to say St-Pierre fought frequent rematches and also found himself fighting smaller opponents as often as not.
“If you look at Georges St-Pierre’s record, not to downplay Georges St-Pierre, but, if you look at his record, he fought a lot of the same people, some of them two or three times,” Bisping said. “If you go through the opponents, B.J. Penn, who he fought two or three times, he’s a featherweight [Penn held the UFC’s welterweight and lightweight titles and had several fights at featherweight in recent years]. Johny Hendricks, you look at him these days, but still. Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, OK that’s a good win. Josh Koscheck, Dan Hardy, BJ Penn is a featherweight, Matt Serra is lightweight, these are all smaller guys.
“It’s easy for him to go in there, back then it was look, ‘ooh Georges is 190 pounds cutting down to welterweight’ and he’s fighting guys so much smaller than him.”
Bisping will have the size advantage when the duo step into the Octagon in New York City. And he knows that even if he defeats St-Pierre in impressive fashion, his army of critics aren’t likely going to be impressed.
Perhaps that’s why there’s an edge when he’s asked about his naysayers.
“Your approval is not what I’m looking for,” Bisping said. “I’m looking to take care of my family, my wife and children, to give them a great life. If down the line you guys say something nice about me, that’s great. If not, kiss my ass.”