One year ago, Michael Bisping was preparing to face Dan Henderson at UFC 100 to serve as the culmination of The Ultimate Fighter season nine. Bisping went on to lose to Henderson in one of the most spectacular knockouts in UFC history.
Since that time, Bisping has gone 2-1, with wins over Denis Kang and Dan Miller at UFC 114 and a decision loss to Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110 in February.
He seems to perform wonderfully against the lower-level fighters in the middleweight division, but he's yet to capture a signature win to vault him to the upper echelon of the division.
Bisping won season three of The Ultimate Fighter, and the UFC pushed him as the face of MMA in the UK. It seemed a drop from the light-heavyweight division down to middleweight would elevate him to elite level status in the sport.
In his win over Dan Miller, Bisping showed decent takedown defense, but Miller never really pushed the issue of taking the fight to the ground.
"The Count" continually tried to get in-and-out with his striking, but he took several counter shots from Miller throughout the fight.
With the win, Bisping raised his record to 9-3 inside the Octagon, yet he is nowhere near a title shot. Bisping fans will point out that his losses are to two MMA legends and the current number one contender in the light-heavyweight division, but at some point a fighter must step up and win a "breakthrough" fight.
Bisping has yet to capitalize on his opportunities, but how many more chances will he get in the UFC?
Fellow countrymen Dan Hardy and Paul Daley have already fought for titles, and Ross Pearson appears to be on his way up the lightweight division, but Bisping seems to be stuck in neutral as a middleweight.
Bisping himself admitted after the fight he is still far away from even fighting for the title, let alone holding it.
"Maybe I fought those big name fighters too early in my career," Bisping said. "Honestly, I think I'm still at least two good wins away from fighting for the title. Maybe by the end of 2010 or early 2011 I'll be in position to fight for the title. I still want to be the first English fighter to hold a title."
Many fans, and even Bisping himself, feel he won his fight over Wanderlei Silva in February. Could a re-match between the two fighters take place after Silva fights in July, or might the UFC try matching up Bisping with a different upper-echelon fighter?
Regardless of how fans feel about Bisping personally, no one can deny the fact that he is a talented fighter. Talent has gotten him to become a good fighter, but good doesn't win titles.
Unless he is content being a middleweight gatekeeper, Bisping needs to improve his ground game and become even sharper and more precise with his striking.
The UK has become a player in recent years with a flood of talent into mixed martial arts. While Bisping was the standard-bearer only a few years ago, he has now fallen back to the pack, and he's lost any star quality he might have previously shown.
Unless he can begin racking up wins over top-level talent, Michael Bisping will never be more than average inside the Octagon.
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