Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy, who headline Wednesday night's The Ultimate Fighter: Nations Finale at the Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, Quebec, actually have a lot in common. That's also a statement that may infuriate both of them.
Both are polarizing middleweight fighters with good win-loss records. Both are talked about as being among the most overrated and underrated fighters in the company, depending on who one listens to. Both like to talk, which has played a big part in this main event happening. Both have had a lot of wins, but both have yet to get that one signature win that puts them right there for a UFC title shot. Both are difficult to finish. Both are good at almost every aspect of MMA, but not incredible at any. Both are durable, hard nuts to crack, and known for conditioning. And both abhor steroids in the sport.
But Kennedy has frequently stated Bisping is a dirty fighter. Bisping, after three years, is tired of hearing about it.
The first known interaction between the two on Twitter dates back to May 17, 2011, when Kennedy wrote, "It is disrespectful and unprofessional to illegally knee someone in the face while they have their knees on the ground," directing it at Bisping, who did so to Jorge Rivera in one of Bisping's most heated grudge matches of his career. The next day, Bisping shot back, "What the f*** has it got to do with you and why you piping up now? You missed the bandwagon. It left two months ago."
"To be honest, I had no clue who Tim Kennedy was," Bisping said about their first interaction, when Kennedy was still a Strikeforce fighter. "He wasn't on my radar. I didn't actually know who he was. I'm not trying to sound funny. I didn't know him until he started making comments on Twitter. I was thinking, `Who the hell is this guy? Then Strikeforce fighters were absorbed into UFC and he won a fight in UFC."
Originally, Bisping was looking at a higher-ranked opponent, someone like Lyoto Machida, trying to get that win to earn him a title shot. That was back when Weidman was expected to face Belfort.
But he eventually changed his opinion and asked for Kennedy.
"I can only take so much, so I said, `Let's do it.'"
"To be honest, he tries to be funny constantly, but he's just not," said Bisping. "He's not a funny guy. He comes across as a bit of a dork, kind of goofy. It's hard to take him seriously."
While Bisping is strong at hyping fights, the dirty fighter charge has him mad.
"He's just a flat out liar," Bisping said. "He said that I always grabbed over the top of the cage. I don't think I've ever grabbed over the top of the cage once, even in practice. He said how I always kick people in the groin, I always eye gouge, I always knee people when they are down. I kneed a guy once. I got a point taken off and it's the only point I've had taken off in my entire UFC career."
For the record, Bisping has had two points taken off, one against Josh Haynes in 2006 and one against Rivera in 2011.
"He thinks he's won this big mind battle," said Bisping. "He thinks I'm a puppet and he pulled my strings. The fact is, he's a stepping stone. I've faced way better competition than this guy. He's another night at the office. I'm excited to be fighting in UFC, earning money again. I'm excited to be training again, but as far as Tim Kennedy, he doesn't excite me."
"He beat Roger Gracie in a terrible fight," Bisping continued. "Then he was supposed to fight Machida, and Machida would have kicked his head off his shoulders. He dodged a bullet there. Then he fought (Rafael) Natal. He knocked him out and he has two wins in the UFC. He's built up some momentum, and now the momentum ends. I don't want to hear his name again after Wednesday. I don't want to be associated with people like that."
Still, Bisping is expecting a long, tough fight. Kennedy (17-4), went five rounds in losses to Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza and Luke Rockhold. He was only stopped once, back in 2001 by Scott Smith, and that was due to a doctor's ruling.
"I don't think he's been knocked out or submitted," said Bisping. "He's got a good chin. So he'll be my punching bag for 25 minutes. Can I get a stoppage? Who knows? I can't guarantee it. I'll have extra aggression because of all the crap that he's talked. He seems very resilient and in good condition. I don't expect it to be a complete walk in the park, but I don't ever expect that from any fighter in the UFC."
"He's got okay takedowns," said Bisping. "He went to the floor with Roger Gracie so he's got to be confident in his ability there. He's quite powerful. If he lands clean, you have to be careful. But he's got a basic game. I always come in great condition. He's certainly going to be able to go 25 minutes hard and push the pace, but that's it. I've fought better wrestlers. I've fought guys better at jiu-jitsu. And I've fought better strikers. He's got nothing I haven't seen before."
For both fighters, time is closing in on their ability to make that move to the top. Bisping (24-5) had his career mortality staring him in the face over the past year due to a detached retina, which nearly left him blind in his right eye. He just turned 35, while Kennedy will turn 35 on Sept. 1.
Bisping was told prior to his eye surgery that he would be able to fight again, so the detached retina wasn't as scary at first. But later, when more problems surfaced in the eye, things weren't so positive.
"There were days I was certainly a lot more skeptical," he said. "I thought I'd never fight again.
"There were some very worrying times. I'm only 35. I just turned 35. I'm still a young man. I was upset that I might have to find a new career."
The worst came when he was at a kickboxing event, sitting with UFC fighter Ross Pearson. His right eye was bothering him and he asked Pearson if he looked okay.
"He said, `To be honest, it looks really red.' I started panicking. I drove home."
When he got there, he could barely see.
"I called my doctor and he said let the blood drain away. In the morning, everything was fine. I had internal bleeding inside my eye."
The story of Bisping's career has been to get one fight away from a title shot, and then lose. It's happened four times in the last five years. There was the UFC 100 knockout loss to Dan Henderson in one of the more memorable fights in UFC history. There was a close decision loss to Wanderlei Silva in 2010. There was an even closer decision loss to Chael Sonnen in 2012, and then there was last year's loss to Vitor Belfort. B
isping was outspoken about steroids before all of this, but considering Henderson, Sonnen and Belfort were all on testosterone replacement therapy when they beat him, one could see why he'd feel the way he does.
For a few years, Bisping has said there is a distinction he never wanted to be, which was to leave the sport as the guy with the most UFC wins who has never gotten a title shot. He already holds that distinction today, as the only man with 14 wins or more who has never received that final destination. But he doesn't blame the organization, noting he's been one step away several times.
Bisping goes into Wednesday's fight tied for eighth place for most wins. A 15th win would tie him for sixth, behind only legends of the sport like Georges St-Pierre, Matt Hughes, Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture.
"Obviously, the middleweight division is the most exciting it's ever been," said Bisping. "With Anderson Silva not having the title, it gives everyone a sense or urgency to be the next champion. It's (Chris) Weidman, unless Machida beats him. Anderson is going to be out for a while. Belfort is going to be out for a while. There's a bunch of good guys, and I think I'm right up there with them. I've won seven of my last nine, and both losses were to guys on TRT. One of them was a questionable decision. Vitor beat me fair and square, but I've always been in the top ten and have never turned down a fight. If I beat Kennedy, I'll have won eight out of ten, so it's not out of the realm of possibilities that I'd get a title shot."
His prediction for July 5, on who will end the night as champion, is Machida.
"For me, I'm leading toward Machida, for sure," he said. "I think he'll be too fast. Weidman is very powerful. He's kind of slow. His takedowns are good and he got Anderson down, but Anderson's is known for being a little weak in takedown defense. Machida has very good underrated wrestling and I think Machida is a tougher match up for Weidman. With his speed, I can see him picking Weidman apart all night long. Weidman is a young fighter. He's still learning. He's still improving. He may get faster, but he just had two knee surgeries so that may hurt him doing agility drills right now."