Michael Bisping's return to the Octagon last month didn't really go as planned and he'll be the first to say it.
After being out for a year with a series of potentially career-threatening eye injuries and surgeries, Bisping was able to get back in the Octagon in April opposite Tim Kennedy for the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Nations. The bout, however, resulted in Bisping being taken down and positionally controlled, handing heated rival Kennedy the unanimous decision victory.
That's why when the UFC offered Bisping a bout in August in Macau, China opposite Cung Le - a bout that will serve as the main event of that Fight Pass card - Bisping jumped at the opportunity.
"Instantly, I thought, 'Wow, this is cool.' I've love being in international fights for the UFC," Bisping told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "I've always wanted to travel to China, but I haven't had the reason to yet. And here we are. I'm off to Macau and I'm thoroughly excited. Excited to be back in there with an exciting stylistic fighter like Cung Le. He brings it every time. Like I said, he has an exciting style. Lots of kicks and punches. It's going to be a great striking battle.
"I get to make up for that last fight," Bisping continued. "That was a poor performance and very, very boring fight. I don't work so hard to take part in boring fights."
So, what went wrong for Bisping? Whatever his flaws, he's widely regarded as having strong takedown defense. More importantly, Kennedy and Bisping shared a mutual, public dislike. The Brit had every incentive to give Kennedy everything he could, but ultimately ended up being dominated and out-grappled for the majority of the fight.
As far as Bisping is concerned, he just didn't prepare correctly and maybe came back to the Octagon against an opponent too tough given the layoff.
"It was disappointing. Simple as that. It was a disappointing fight," Bisping said. "Maybe a little ring rust, obviously. I had a lot of surgeries and spent a lot sitting on my couch recovering. Maybe that played a factor.
"He took me down, held me down for a while. That scores points. He got the decision. It is what it is. You say congratulations and you move on."
Move on, yes, but that doesn't mean Bisping wasn't bothered by the loss. While he was reluctant to say this loss was worth than the others, he was willing to admit it stung just as bad as any of them have.
"You know, it's always hard," Bisping says of losing. "I don't train hard to lose fights. Simple as that and whether or not you like the guy or you detest the guy, when you come up short, it always stings.
"They all hurt. Losses always hurt, of course."
Bisping, though, expanded on what went wrong in greater detail. While he was careful to compliment both his coaches and training partners, he cited the lack of number in terms of sparring partners. That is, he didn't have enough. He was too familiar with their games and was able to stuff takedowns, which turned sparring sessions into kickboxing bouts. That, Bisping says, more than anything, contributed to the wrong kind of preparation for what Kennedy was to throw at him.
"I wasn't too emotional. I think what it was, I knew straight away what had gone wrong in the preparation. My coaches did a great job, but I was struggling for training partners and specifically, wrestlers. And the sparring. The sparring bouts turned into kickboxing matches.
"That was the difference," he continued. "He just wanted to wrestle from the get go and in rounds 1 and 3, he was successful with that. And he was successful with holding me down once he got them. He didn't try for much else apart from holding me down for dear life. The preparation failed in that respect.
"Lesson learned. You dust yourself off, as I said, and you get back on the horse."
The elephant in the room may also be Bisping's eye. However cosmetic the injury may be, it's still noticeable now to anyone who looks at it. Is that something he can point to as a factor in how he fought?
"I would love to say the eye played a factor in the fight because that'd be a great excuse, but the eye wasn't a factor at all," he said. "I wish it was. I wish I could pinpoint it down to that.
"Listen, he got some takedowns and held me down. That's what played the factor. It wasn't like he outstruck me all day long or anything like that where vision would play a factor. He closed distance fast and clung on for dear life and held me down and couldn't wait for the fight to finish."
"It wasn't the eye, no. Confidently, it wasn't the eye," Bisping said matter of factly. "There's nothing wrong with the eye."
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. As sour an episode as that may have been for Bisping, the Le fight is a chance to turn the corner into positive territory, to remind people of why he's been close to title shots and a formidable middleweight. That's how he sees it, anyway, and it's got him jazzed up.
"No, Cung Le isn't taking me down and I won't take him down. This fight has fireworks written all over it and that's why I'm excited for the match up. It'll be a great striking battle.
"I'm really looking forward to main eventing in China and I'm going to give people what they paid to see," he went on. "I feel like I didn't live up to my words last time."
Bisping believes his last fight wasn't just an ordinary loss, as far as those go. The impression he worries about is it may have said something about him. Is he past his prime? Was it just a layoff or is Bisping too old? Bisping agrees, whatever the situation, that the Le fight isn't just noe he should win, but one he should win to send a message.
"I've got a point to prove: a point to prove to myself and the paying public, that you should still watch my fights, that I'm still a contender. But that all starts with Cung Le," Bisping said. "Apologies for the last fight. I was trying my best, but only one of us wanted to fight and that was me. The other guy didn't engage."
Bisping didn't have bad blood with only Kennedy. Throughout the course of his career, he's shared some angry moments with many of his previous opponents. Yet, with Le, that doesn't seem to be playing a role. While Bisping agrees having animosity always helps him a bit, he's adamant it's not required to win.
"For me, it's all about winning the fight. I'm competitive. That's what's got me to where I am today. So yeah, if you don't like them, that's great. Ultimately, we're trying to knock each other out and we don't need any more motivation than that.
"I want to continue my march towards a title shot."
The question now is what's left for Bisping. A win gets him back on track to something, although even that isn't clear. A loss, however, would be particularly devastating. Any hope of a title shot would likely evaporate and questions about his status as a middleweight contender would most certainly appear.
While Bisping is reluctant to acknowledge the consequences are hugely important, he is willing to admit he's fighting to get himself out of a very bad career spot. He notes it's time to win if he has any hope of accomplishing his goals.
"I don't feel like it's do or die because that's just my attitude, but yeah, my back's against the wall, he admitted.
"Listen, I've never lost two in a row in my life and I'm coming off of a loss. It's as simple as that. I'm coming off of a loss and I don't intend to make it two losses in a row. So yeah, my back's up against the wall.
"I'm proclaiming to be one of the best out there and losing fights doesn't really go hand-in-hand with being one of the best. I've got to go out there and got a point to prove: a point to prove to myself, to my supporters, to my haters, to the UFC, to my family, everything," he contended.
"Of course, yeah," Bisping repeated, "my back's against the wall."