The UFC has high hopes for brash Irishman Conor McGregor, who is just one win away from a shot at featherweight champion Jose Aldo, but before their most recent excursion into Western Europe, there was the United Kingdom's Michael "The Count" Bisping.
Bisping has been on the cusp of a title shot multiple times in his career but never made it over the hump. The 35-year-old has fought at the top of the 185-pound division for over six years and compiled an impressive 11-6 record. Throughout those years, he's made waves by calling out various fighters, and coaching two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter.
The Count and McGregor both ascended into the upper echelon of their respective divisions early in their careers. Both men have also conducted a fair amount of business, and captivated the mixed martial arts masses, more so through their use of camera time and a microphone, as opposed to the Octagon. They even share some unique ties dating back to their pre-UFC days.
Before he was a coach, Bisping was a student. On the third installment of TUF, a then-26-year-old Bisping began his career under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz.
Prior to his start on the show, the Brit had a run of 10 straight wins, and had captured two separate championships at 205 pounds in his native UK. Bisping was a well-rounded fighter, and is still to this day, but he did the majority of his damage with his hands.
That makes two in that regard, as McGregor—a former amateur boxer—bullied opponents to the tune of 11 knockouts before his stint in the UFC. McGregor, like Bisping, fought in the famed British Cage Warriors promotion and captured not one, but two titles in the featherweight and lightweight divisions.
Bisping, however, didn't become a recognizable face, and a household name, by simply talking a good game. The Count finished each of his opponents on TUF. After defeating Kristian Rothaermel by TKO, he met familiar foe Ross Pointon, and bested him again in the semi-final round after landing a flying knee in the first frame.
In the show's finale, Bisping defeated Josh Haynes in a hard-fought battle to become the second light-heavyweight winner in TUF history. He was also the first non-American winner in the program's history, and subsequently began to carve out a niche for Western European fighters to one day grace the Octagon.
Bisping then set out to make good on a gamble he took back in his early 20s and fulfill the contract given to him by UFC President Dana White. He began his UFC career at 205 pounds stacking knockout wins over Eric Schafer and Elvis Sinosic, with a contested decision victory over former TUF 3 rival Matt Hamill.
A close split-decision loss to TUF 2 winner Rashad Evans altered his course to middleweight, a place Bisping would call home for the next six years. He became a top-10 middleweight very quickly, reaching the top 5 on two occasions, stumbling in each case and losing title eliminator bouts against Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen.
It was his time spent coaching against Henderson on TUF: United States vs. United Kingdom, that was his coming out party. On TUF 9, Bisping carefully poked and prodded the former Pride middleweight and welterweight champion.
The trash talk that became synonymous with Bisping would follow him, 18 months later, into his co-main event spot of UFC 127 against Jorge Rivera in February 2011. The build-up to the fight was nothing short of testy, and included several videos released by Rivera mocking The Count. By the time their fight was over, albeit not without much controversy, a number of fighters were upset at Bisping's conduct during the fight and after it.
Now, as he sits at No. 9 in the middleweight division, having not put together back-to-back wins since 2011, the ship may have sailed on Bisping's opportunity at UFC gold. There are a bevvy of candidates, like Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, Yoel Romero and former 185-champion Anderson Silva, who are all hoping to make their case for a title shot in 2015.
Bisping, who will turn 36 in February, is nowhere near retirement and still has something to give to the sport but faces an uphill climb against the blistering power-punchers and jiu-jitsu aces atop the middleweight ladder. If Bisping retired today, with a 15-7 record in the Octagon, he would go out as one of most successful fighters never to challenge for a belt.
And where one fighter prepares to write, what might be the closing chapter of his UFC career, one begins to own the spotlight. While a win isn't certain, the 26-year-old McGregor can challenge for a belt in his second year in the UFC with a win over German/Russian kickboxer Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night: Boston.
McGregor has the opportunity to supplant Bisping as the best fighter to ever come out of his region, and he very well could. His style certainly has shown to be the weakness of Siver's, who has crumbled when blitzed by Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard.
Dublin's own earned the right, through his uncanny use of self promotion, shock value and striking prowess, to be in this position. But if you listen closely, there's a distinct difference in how McGregor and Bisping talk up a fight.
Where McGregor brings an air of sophisticated elegance, Bisping is just plain rude. Bisping would appear to be the kind of person who would cut in front of an elderly person at the deli counter.
The Irishman knows he is good and wants to tell you all about it. He knows his time is now, which makes his messages seem a little bit more real.
Where some have made bold statements, McGregor is adept at convincing the public they're facts, not just hearsay.
"He is a good fighter, though we aren't entirely sure how good. He might be great. He might not," Bleacher Report's Jeremy Botter said about The Notorious. "Where he shines, however, is promoting fights. He is brash and confident and says things that makes the media smile because we know he has made our job easy."
And shine he does. The UFC sold out the O2 arena in Dublin, Ireland with the strength of a McGregor headliner and it became the second most successful non-pay-per-view event in the promotion's history.
When McGregor isn't reminding you about his custom suits, or his escapades with UFC brass, he is inserting himself into future opponent's psyches, making them crumble before a fight even takes place. His belief, and confidence in himself, are incomparable to any other fighter on the roster.
McGregor didn't have a television show—although at this point it seems likely he'll be considered as a potential TUF coach down the road—to showcase his skill, both in the cage and on camera. He doesn't owe Bisping anything in regards to his instant success but perhaps, if the Brit wasn't as successful as he initially was, then maybe UFC President Dana White begins looking elsewhere for global UFC talent.