Few fighters own a career ledger over the past four years more consistently inconsistent than Michael Bisping. The veteran Brit is just 3-4 over that span, but has alternated wins and losses in a frustrating cycle of always treading enough water to avoid falling out of contention, but never generating enough momentum to secure that elusive first UFC title shot.
It's a trend Bisping will once again be forced to climb back from on April 25 when he meets C.B. Dollaway at UFC 186. That fight will be Bisping's first since he suffered a tough loss to Luke Rockhold at UFC Fight Night 55, and he admitted on The MMA Hour that he'll have to battle his "inner demons" in order to prove he still belongs among the best in the world.
"I mean, for some reason, I've fought so long in the UFC now -- I've been a part of that roster for 10 years -- but not all of the time do I perform to the best of my ability," Bisping said on Monday. "The last fight against Rockhold, I wouldn't say that was one of those fights. I actually think I won the first round. We clashed heads. He headbutted me, I think would be a more accurate description. It split my eye wide open, there was blood pouring into my eye, and after that all I could see was a lot of red going right into my eyes.
"He caught me with a head kick while I was trying to wipe blood out of my eyes -- it's one of those things, that's how it goes in the fight game. So well done for him. But that was just unfortunate circumstances. This fight, I've got to prove to the world that I'm still one of the best and I'm as good as I think I am, I'm as good as my coaches think I am, and I've got to take what I do in the gym and bring that into the Octagon on fight night."
It was early in the Rockhold fight when the two rivals clashed heads, splitting open a large cut directly above Bisping's left eye. The cut worsened as the fight went on and, according to Bisping, required "eight or nine stitches" to close. Bisping ultimately tapped to a guillotine after getting rocked in the second round, sinking yet another chance to push himself into title contention.
When asked, Bisping wouldn't go so far as to call the headbutt intentional, though the entire situation remains a hard luck loss against an opponent who the 36-year-old Brit clearly didn't get along with.
"Listen, of course I'm a competitor. I want to win each and every fight that I'm a part of. But when it's said and done, when the referee stops the fight, you have to congratulate your opponent and you take it like a man," Bisping said.
"So it was unfortunate, as I've said, but I continued to fight. I'm a warrior. Chris Weidman pulled out with a bad rib. T.J. Dillashaw pulled out with a bad rib. I've been getting treatment on a bad rib for the last two weeks. Did the thought of ever pulling out of this fight ever cross my mind? Not once. Not once. I don't pull out of fights and I don't puss out when somebody headbutts me. That's just the way I am, for good or bad, rightly or wrongly. That's just the way I am."
The loss plummeted Bisping's name down to ninth on the UFC's media-generated middleweight rankings. Now his ascent back up begins against Dollaway, a fellow TUF product who suffered a similar rankings plunge after dropping to Lyoto Machida in just 62 seconds last December.
Bisping and Dollaway have largely stayed quiet throughout the lead-up to the fight, electing to round out their skills rather than their social media games. It may be a dramatic departure from the verbal barrage that took place daily between Bisping and Rockhold, but Bisping said he won't go forcing something when it's not there.
"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not really a guy who goes out and looks for feuds," Bisping said. "I'm not looking to disrespect all my opponents and things like that. I speak my mind. If we don't get along and he's not necessarily on my Christmas card list, then I'll say that.
"I've never met C.B. Dollaway so I have no problem with the guy. So I'm not going to manufacture some hate, manufacture some storyline that doesn't exist. I'm going to let the fight do the talking. The caliber of the match-up sells the fight. It's a fantastic match-up. C.B., stylistically, is a good opponent for me. He's got great wrestling, he's got knockout power. I, myself, I always deliver. I always look for the knockout or the stoppage on the feet. And I top of that, I lost my last fight. So I've got a lot to prove. C.B. Dollaway has the same. He's a good opponent, but my biggest opponent in this fight is myself.
"Two minutes in, he's going to realize, ‘s**t, I want out of this fight. I can't beat this guy.'"