Michael Bisping has been here before. The affable Englishman has been a perennial contender for much of his seven-year stint in the UFC, clawing his way to one-fight-away status on more than one occasion. Yet each time, Bisping has fallen short.
All along he has made no secret about his desire for a shot at the UFC middleweight championship. And now, fittingly, Bisping finds himself again at the precipice of his goal. All that stands in his way is a bout against the old lion of the division, Vitor Belfort.
"The fact that I've built myself back up, and gotten to this position again, I think is a testament to my mental toughness," Bisping declared on The MMA Hour ahead of this weekend's bout. "My desire to win and continue. I've been in the UFC for seven years, and God forbid this doesn't go my way on Saturday night, I'm not going away. I'm not going away that easily. I'll go away, I'll dust myself off, I'll build myself back up, and I'll be back in this position again. And I will win. But right now I'm not even thinking about that. I'm very, very confident. If Vitor beats me on Saturday night, then you'll hear no excuses from me. Fair play to the guy. He beat the best version of me right now."
Bisping acknowledging defeat as a possible outcome is not only telling, but also understandable given his recent lack of luck in No. 1 contender matches. However, even if he falters at UFC on FX 7, Bisping steadfastly believes the UFC belt is in his future, regardless of how many tries it takes.
"I haven't fought for the title yet," explained Bisping. "I think I'm destined to be world champion one day. No one works as hard as me. I've definitely got the skill set. I've got the tools. I've got the mental capacity to achieve that, the mental toughness that's required. I've got all the ingredients. Maybe in the past I wasn't ready. Now I feel ready."
True to his word, Bisping cruises into the weekend having won five of his last six fights, with the only loss coming in a contentious decision to the division's perpetual No. 2, Chael Sonnen.
Even still, Bisping remains a slight underdog to Belfort -- a fact of which he is well aware.
"I'll take anything and everything," Bisping admitted. "I'll take the smallest little [slight], it could be nothing, it could any little remark, but in my head, I'm going to multiply that massively, and turn a molehill into a mountain because that's what I need to do. That's how I fight better, and that's how I perform. So any of my opponents, past, present, future, give me an ounce of material to go on, and I'm going to go on that and I'm going to turn it into a big thing. Because that's what fuels me. That's what gets me out of bed. That's what gets me in the Octagon, and that's what helps me perform at such a high level."
The ability to manufacture conflict into motivation is a trait often shared by the world's best athletes. In professional basketball, Michael Jordan was legendary for his ability to feed off of the smallest personal slight from his opponents, and Kobe Bryant has similarly followed suit. Luckily for Bisping, who remains one of the sport's most underestimated fighters, there is no shortage of sources for such motivation.
Even recently, burgeoning middleweight contenders Tim Boetsch and Alan Belcher made a point to call out Bisping on their quest for a title, figuring he was the easiest mark of the division's big-name fighters. Of course, when both Belcher and Boetsch were eventually stopped by men ranked lower than Bisping last December, the Brit couldn't help but chuckle.
"I've got nothing against them personally," he mused. "But I've always felt, particularly Alan Belcher, he's been calling me out for years and years and years, and I've always felt I could take care of him pretty easily.
"I plan on fighting Anderson later in the year and taking the title off of him, and I thought Alan Belcher, Tim Boetsch, doing well, a little bit of title talk around them, they could be two nice, lil' easy title defenses for me. So actually, seeing them get beat was quite saddening for me," Bisping finished, tongue-in-cheek.
Jokes aside, at 33 years old, Bisping understands this is his best chance to finally seize that elusive title shot. He often calls Belfort the "hardest fight outside of Anderson in the middleweight division," and if he can get past the Brazilian, Bisping believes he would be more than ready for Silva.
But when it comes to looking ahead? Bisping has been in this situation enough to avoid such a grievous mistake.
"Right now all I'm thinking about is Vitor Belfort. He's a tremendous opponent. He's fought a who's who of MMA. The only people that have beaten him are all-time greats. His recent run in the UFC, he's only been beaten by Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, the two pound-for-pound best in the world. So fortunately, Saturday night when I beat him, I'll be joining good company," Bisping concluded.
"The hard work is done. Now it's time for the fun."