Now 31 years old and with experience to grow on, Bisping feels he's finally graduated to a maturity level that can move him to elite status. It's to the point where he's comfortable enough turning his words on himself. Take Thursday for instance, when the middleweight contender was asked about making a run at the UFC championship, and he answered with typical directness, and a serious dose of self-reflection.
"I've been talking about it a bit recently," he said. "Obviously in the past I've talked about wanting to be the champion, being the world champ. It's ironic. Maybe in the past I didn't truly believe it. I was just saying it because it's the thing you're supposed to say. But now everything's coming together.
"I feel I'm really maturing as a fighter," he said moments later. "I've got the experience under my belt. My skills are all coming together. I'm understanding the game a lot more. I've got the confidence back where I need to be. And I truly believe now I can make a run at the title."
Bisping (19-3), who will face Japanese fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 120 on October 16 in London, will be aiming to win a second straight fight after topping Dan Miller via judges decision at UFC 114.
It's a modest streak, but while the record books show he split his last four fights, Bisping said he doesn't feel that way at all.
"Other than the Henderson fight and a bulls--- decision to Wanderlei Silva, I don't think I've lost at middleweight," he said. "I got beat by Dan Henderson and that's it. I feel I won the fight against Wanderlei. Other than Dan Henderson, I've never been beat at middleweight. So I feel I've got a path to the title. I'm one of the better athletes in there. I've got to walk the walk. It's all well and good me sitting here talking about it, but people don't want to hear that, they want to see results. And I plan to deliver on Oct. 16."
Bisping says some of his newfound maturity comes from the Henderson loss at UFC 100, when he was brutally knocked out. At the time, he was 3-0 as a middleweight and rapidly nearing contender status in the division.
"In hindsight that was the best thing that could've happened to me," he said. "It made me go away and work hard on the mistakes I was making."
While Bisping is never at a loss for words, he had nothing negative to say about his opponent, Akiyama (13-2, 2 no contests), who is coming off a third-round triangle choke loss to Chris Leben in a back-and-forth bout at UFC 116.
Ironically, Leben is a common opponent for both fighters, and while Akiyama lost to him, Bisping beat him by decision at UFC 89. Still, Bisping looks past the history and to the specific way he matches up Akiyama in predicting the fight's path.
"I looked at Akiyama and the way he fights and I'm positive I can beat him," he said. "I'm improving all the time. I'm a much better fighter than what I was one year ago. I feel I'm maturing and coming into my peak as a mixed martial artist. I'm not overlooking Akiyama. I think he's a very tough opponent and I'm sure it's going to be a great fight. I'm expecting him to come in hard and fast looking for the knockout."
Ultimately, of course Bisping expects to prevail in front of his home country fans. Over 17,000 are expected to be in the 02, and Bisping plans to ride the surge of momentum to victory and beyond.
"Right now I'm focusing on Akiyama. It's going to be a tough fight and I've got the utmost respect for him," he said. "After the fight, fingers crossed, God willing I beat him, I just want to fight ... I feel I'm in my prime now. I'd like to avenge the loss to Wanderlei. I feel I beat him on that night. I'd love to fight him again, but if it's not going to be him, whether it's Nate Marquardt, Chael Sonnen's out, I don't care who it is. Whoever the top dog is out there that wants the belt, I want to beat them and then fight for the title."
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