The winds of change are blowing.
Michael Bisping has never been the most-liked fighter in the UFC. OK, that's probably the biggest understatement I've ever written, but bear with me for a few minutes.
Ever since he appeared on The Ultimate Fighter, Bisping has essentially been two men. Much like Bret Hart during his pro Canada/anti-America wrestling storyline back in the late 90's, Bisping has been treated wholly differently on two different continents.
In America—and the rest of the world, if truth be told—Bisping has been the UFC's ultimate villain. At times, he's lived up to that billing; the spitting incident with Jorge Rivera at UFC 127 springs to mind. That one took place in Australia, and he received a ton of negative feedback from the live crowd.
But Bisping is even more vilified by American audiences. There's just something about the middleweight that seemingly angers American fight fans. I can't put my finger on it, but I suspect part of it is due to the simple fact that he's not American.
You know it's true, don't you? Dan Hardy often receives the same treatment, and he's cut from the same mold as Bisping: brash, outspoken and British. We Americans are fine with our fighters being a little bit arrogant, so long as they don't speak with a funny accent.
This is not to say that Bisping didn't help add to the negativity over the years with his own attitude, because he certainly did.
But the past year has been an interesting one for Bisping, and I think a lot of that negativity is starting to go away. He hasn't changed much, at least not on the surface. He's still as arrogant as ever, and I don't see that ever changing. It's who he is: a fighter supremely confident in his skills who is not afraid to tell you how good he is. It's refreshing in a way, and it's meant big money for the new middleweight contender over the years.
Things started to change for Bisping in January, when he stepped up to face Chael Sonnen on short notice at UFC on FOX 4. In a year where fighters have been derided for not being willing to take fights on short notice, Bisping did what everyone wants their fighters to do: fight anyone at any time and without much in the way of preparation. His decision to step in and face Sonnen wasn't an easy one to make, and it may not have been the smart one; it was a bad fight for him, style-wise, and it represented a potential roadblock in his path to title contender status.
But Bisping took the fight anyway. He lost the fight—though whether he actually lost is debatable—but came out looking better than he did going in. Instead of derailing his title hopes, the fight actually boosted his status. Fans who hated him since his Ultimate Fighter days decided that the guy may not be quite as bad as they thought.
And with his win over Brian Stann at UFC 152, even more fans flocked to his side. He didn't finish the fight, but he scored a dominant win over a very good fellow middleweight. And in the days leading up to that fight, Bisping was one of the biggest stars of fight week—and that includes light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who saw his own popularity waning even as Bisping's was on the rise.
I'm not afraid to say it: This is a new Michael Bisping for the most part. As he noted in the lead-up to UFC 152, he's got a family now, and having a family will affect your life in all sorts of ways. It makes you stop before you say things you would've said in the past. It creates a sense of purpose that may not have been there before.
He'll still say outlandish things from time to time, as witnessed in his wink-wink "feud" with flyweight Joseph Benavidez in the month prior to UFC 152. That's part of who he is. But instead of being a reason for fans to hate him, that willingness to speak his mind is now becoming a reason to get behind him, and it's all because he's proven that he's willing to step up and fight anyone at any time.
Things are coming together for Bisping. He's making more money than ever before. He's represented by a great sports agency at Paradigm Sports Management. And he'll likely get the next crack at middleweight champion Anderson Silva, perhaps even in front of his countrymen at a UFC stadium show in England. That last part isn't all that likely due to time differences between England and North America, but it remains a possibility.
And for the first time ever, the fans are getting behind him. It's an unlikely story, but one that's going to remain extremely interesting to watch in the year to come.