In preparation for his collision with Vitor Belfort Saturday night at UFC on FX 7, Michael Bisping scoured the combat sports landscape to find sparring partners who could mimic Belfort's quick-fisted southpaw style.
It sounds like the search went pretty well. Bisping said Monday on The MMA Hour broadcast with host Ariel Helwani that he brought in Bellator middleweight knockout artist Alexander Shlemenko, UFC veteran Jay Silva and (before Saturday) Strikeforce standout Lorenz Larkin, among others.
Bisping, who said he also worked with boxers and jiu-jitsu players in preparation for the bout, expressed satisfaction over his training camp and said he felt ready to fight.
Getting hold of decent southpaw sparring partner can be quite tricky...but I've prepared very well for this fight and I'm feeling very, very confident.
Shlemenko (46-7) has 27 career wins by knockout and, like Belfort, throws hard, fast punches. The Russian has trained with Bisping before.
Larkin (13-0-1) has eight wins by knockout. Silva (8-6) competed twice in the UFC Octagon back in 2009 and 2010.
Also during the interview, Bisping (23-4) made a slightly unusual admission for a fighter when he acknowledged that his trash talk with Belfort (and plenty of other opponents before that) provided personal motivation to fight; not just grist for the PR machine. "He's a decent human being but we're going to fight so I'm going stir the pot a little bit," Bisping said "I'm going to do what I need to do to mentally prepare. I certainly fight better when I'm like that."
Always an emotional fighter, Bisping, 33, said he thrives on bulletin board material:
It could be nothing, it could any little remark, but in my head, I'm going to multiply that massively, and turn a molehill into a mountain because that's what I need to do. That's how I perform...that's what fuels me.
Bisping, who has been promised a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva if he can defeat Belfort on Saturday, spoke like a man who felt secure in his top contender's role. He noted recent losses from fellow contenders Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch, defeats which give Bisping a clear path to a title fight if he can beat Belfort.
A longtime contender at middleweight who has never been able to get over the hump and fight for a UFC belt, Bisping seemed to express a belief that he has completed an MMA maturation process.
I haven't fought for the title yet, and I think I'm destined to be world champion one day. No one works as hard as me. I've got the skill set. I've got the tools...Maybe in the past I wasn't ready, but now I feel ready.