Michael "The Count" Bisping suffered the biggest loss of his career at UFC on FX 7, when he was knocked out by Brazilian MMA legend Vitor Belfort. The defeat completely derailed Bisping's hopes of a title shot, but the loss could also be a blow to the plans of the UFC.
In 2012, the UFC took a small step in its quest to improve its stance in Europe by hiring former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook as its executive vice president and managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa. It was a step in the right direction as the UFC continues to try to crack the tough nut which is the U.K. market.
The UFC then announced its first of three planned events to be held in the U.K. in 2013: UFC on Fuel 7, to be held in London's Wembley Arena at the beginning of February. The UFC, in the previous couple of years, had only staged one event per annual in the United Kingdom, as they continued to struggle in making a major breakthrough like they had in Brazil.
2013, however, looks to be year they make a leap toward a major breakthrough, and other than putting on more fights in the U.K., Michael Bisping had the potential to be the final piece in the puzzle.
Since winning season three of The Ultimate Fighter in 2006, Bisping has been the poster boy for the UFC in the United Kingdom. And even though Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy was the first U.K. fighter to compete for a UFC title, Bisping is still considered as the U.K.'s greatest MMA product.
The Manchester-man Bisping had previously been on the edge of a title shot versus Anderson Silva on two previous occasions, but failed in overcoming the final hurdle on both times of asking. First, when he was knocked out by Dan Henderson, and second, losing to Chael Sonnen by decision.
But with this third—some think last—opportunity, it looked to be perfect timing as far as the UFC is concerned. Three events and a British representative challenging for a title all in the same year would have been an excellent platform to make ground in breaking the U.K.
The story, after all, is an appealing one. The longtime U.K. poster boy taking on arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time would be a great pull for new fans.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Bisping lost once again in devastating fashion while trying to make it to the top level. With "The Count" now out of the title picture, it is difficult to see where the next U.K. title challenger will come from.
Brad "One Punch" Pickett and Michael Bisping seemed to be the greatest hopes, but with this recent blow and with Pickett losing to both Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland since his move to the UFC, the judge seems to be out on both those particular hopes.
For the UFC, this is a major blow to its plans.
In reality, success is the best way to gain the right exposure. Brazil already had plenty of success stories in José Aldo, Junior dos Santos, Renan Barao and, of course, Anderson Silva. The U.K., it seems, does not have a representative of this calibre at the present time.
MMA and the UFC will continue to gain popularity in the U.K. More events, more British fighters, and other European fighters who made their name in local fight promotions, will mean more recognition. But without a champion, this growth will hit a ceiling which is difficult to break without a major star on the world stage.