Many expected that Michael Bisping would prove too much for aging slugger Vitor Belfort, even in Belfort's home country of Brazil. That he'd outmaneuver him, out-think him and wear the older man down over the course of five long rounds. He certainly had the tools to do it, combining pinpoint punches and kicks with a strong grappling game.
But those picking Bisping to win forgot one thing—the British middleweight consistently makes more basic mistakes than any other UFC fighter of his caliber. Against Belfort, who most speculated could win only by knocking his opponent out with a power shot, Bisping did everything he could to make that projection a reality, walking right into a fight-ending high kick.
"I have been impressed with Vitor from the beginning...Belfort set that kick up. It wasn't just a fluke. He lured him into that kick. It was beautiful," UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz said on Fuel TV after the bout. "He took a left step that got Bisping to take a step to the right, right into his power. He set that up. If you’re Bisping, you have to keep circling to the left away from his power.”
It was a mistake that nicely book-ended Bisping's most famous error of all, one that occurred at the UFC's most successful pay-per-view show ever. At UFC 100, Bisping and American Dan Henderson were a featured bout, fresh off of a season of reality television where they had coached a team of Americans and Brits, respectively.
Bisping had been especially obnoxious on the show, getting under Henderson's skin, or at least trying to. All the sneers in the world, however, couldn't protect Bisping from himself. In that bout, he famously circled left—instead of avoiding Henderson's powerful right hand, such an integral part of his game that it has its own nickname (the H-Bomb), Bisping circled right into it. You can only do that for so long before the lights go out.
Ironically, it may have been correcting this problem that led to Bisping's failure against Belfort. He had been dinged so many times circling left, especially after he landed with his own jab, that he has likely spent hours in the gym correcting that problem. Unfortunately for him, Belfort is a southpaw. So by circling right, he was actually creating the same problem, only a mirror image of it.
This was the third time Bisping has been a single win away from a UFC title shot. Each time he's failed. It presents an interesting conundrum for UFC matchmakers. His popularity in Britain and his notoriety here demand he be a major part of any show he's booked on. But the sad truth is, he may not be a fighter you want derailing other title contenders in the middleweight division.
"Here is the reality. We aren't going to judge anyone's career on six minutes of a fight," former opponent Chael Sonnen said on Fuel's postfight show. "Bisping has had a fantastic career. He takes on tough guys, he headlines fights. He has won 13 fights in the Octagon. That is an incredible amount of fights to have, let alone to win. Where does he go? He has to figure that out."
Bisping has had greatness within his grasp and failed to reach out and take it. Do you really want him spoiling opportunities for other fighters looking to climb the ladder?
I think the most likely matchmaking scenario sees Bisping joining the Rich Franklin circuit, taking on other slightly-past-their-prime but high-profile fighters in an alternate UFC universe outside the normal group of active champions and contenders.
If he runs the table there against the likes of Franklin, Wanderlei Silva and Forrest Griffin, you can bring him back into the UFC's regular continuity. Only then would Bisping have earned yet another shot at redemption.