The UFC’s original bad guy has been out of action for nearly a year recovering from a career-threatening eye injury. During his convalescence, he kept an uncharacteristically low profile, making sporadic media appearances wearing a pirate’s eye patch while spending the rest of his downtime taunting orphans and pulling the wings off butterflies.
OK, that last part was just a guess, but as one of the sport’s longest-standing (and perhaps most unfairly maligned) villains, would you really be surprised?
When Bisping returns on Wednesday at The Ultimate Fighter: Nations live finale, it will be to answer yet another challenge from his peers—this one from American hero Tim Kennedy—in a fight that seems like it could’ve been dreamed up in a professional wrestling writers' room circa 1983.
Or, for that matter, in a Boston tavern circa 1783.
It’s an important comeback bout for the 35-year-old British star, as he seeks to string together two consecutive victories for the first time since 2011. After beginning his UFC career on a 12-3 tear, he’s been inconsistent of late, going just 2-2 during his four most recent appearances (though both losses came against TRT-enhanced fighters Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen).
More to the point, Bisping will be out to prove that he’s still worthy of being the man we love to loathe; one of the most hated-on and frequently called-out fighters on the UFC’s middleweight roster.
As usual, his timing is impeccable.
The 185-pound class experienced a sudden sea change during Bisping’s injury timeout, as Chris Weidman gave new life to contenders of all stripes when he unseated longtime champion Anderson Silva. With erstwhile No. 1 challenger Belfort facing an uncertain future, the race to be an upcoming dance partner for Weidman is wide open.
In other words, the time for Bisping to self-actualize is now. After spending years floating around the outskirts of the title picture without ever receiving a shot at the gold, the sudden absence of Silva could benefit him greatly.
He remains one of the UFC’s most polarizing attractions, after all. He’s the sort of guy who might actually sell a fight with the mild-mannered Weidman if you put them on opposite sides of a press conference dais. Bisping is arrogant, he struts—he’s an Englishman nicknamed “The Count,” for Pete’s sake—and when the percussion intro to Blur’s “Song 2” hits the PA, fans go crazy for him, one way or another.
He’s spent nearly his entire UFC career getting called out by guys like Kennedy. His high-profile status and reputation as an overhyped decision artist have made him a popular mark for upstart middleweights looking to improve their positions in life. Oddly, the fact that most of those challengers ended up receiving a 15-minute crash course in how good Bisping really is appears to have only encouraged additional suitors.
In order for him to take the next step and—gasp—actually become the contender he’s always wanted to be, he has precious little time to waste. If he means to shake our perception of him as a guy who fell short against top competition, his upcoming run of fights likely represents his last chance.
Obviously, all of that starts with beating Kennedy on Wednesday night. If he can do that, he’ll serve notice to fans and the new crop of contenders that—like it or not—the swaggering Brit is still among the toughest draws in the middleweight division.
Better that than just the guy we used to hate.