Michael Bisping's storybook year will have a chance to get its happy ending on Saturday when Bisping meets Dan Henderson in an improbable but long-awaited rematch in Manchester, England at UFC 204. The bout serves as the inaugural defense of the UFC middleweight title that Bisping captured with a stunning upset over Luke Rockhold in June, a win which infamously came on just a few weeks' notice for Bisping.
This time around, Bisping and his team have known about the Henderson fight for months. Nonetheless, they inadvertently ended up replicating the short-notice formula for UFC 204, as prior obligations forced Bisping to split his time into two abbreviated camps rather than one long, drawn-out training camp.
"See, what happened is Michael got booked and we knew this ahead of time, starting camp, that Michael had a movie booked in London," Bisping's head coach, Jason Parillo, explained Monday on The MMA Hour. "And we knew it was perfect timing, because it was right in the gut of our training. Mike's ready to fight three weeks into training camp, and this happened to fall in the fourth or fifth week of training camp ... which was a blessing in disguise, because both me and him even talked about it -- we knew that he was going to go out, he was going to stay running, he was going to stay training.
"And really, the way we were looking at it really happened perfectly, because he really has been peaking this last week. He's stopping guys, knocking guys out in the gym. All cylinders are firing. He's not over-trained. Right now, the biggest focus is focus and just staying relaxed and calm and being confident in what we got going on Saturday night."
Aside from the obvious implications of having the belt, UFC 204 represents a steep departure from the norm for Bisping. The Brit has been the underdog in each of his past few fights, however against the 46-year-old Henderson, Bisping is listed as more than a two-to-one betting favorite by many oddsmakers.
The Henderson bout will also mark only the third rematch Bisping has fought in his entire 13-year mixed martial arts career, and though Bisping is a far different fighter than he was back in 2009, Parillo sees a certain amount of value in watching the film of Bisping's famed knockout loss to Henderson at UFC 100.
"It's a little worthwhile just to look at what we don't want to do," Parillo said. "The temperament of Michael Bisping was a little bit different back then. He was a little younger, he's had a lot more experience since that, and in my opinion, Mike is really peaking in his career. Not just in training, in this training camp, but his career is really peaking and everybody peaks at different times.
"Some guys are the best when they're in their twenties. A lot of guys peak at different times and Mike's really come together mentally, physically, and emotionally. He brings it in and he's a champion now, and I really do believe he's peaking, and I think he's going to keep showing that for the next handful of fights."
While the idea of Bisping peaking as an athlete at 37 years old seems farfetched, there is no doubt that Bisping is currently enjoying the greatest run of his fighting career. "The Count" has won four straight contests over the past two years, culminating in back-to-back victories over legendary middleweight Anderson Silva and Rockhold.
The Rockhold win, more than anything, typified the erratic and unpredictable nature of mixed martial arts. Bisping was a sizeable underdog with virtually no training camp who had already lost handily once before to Rockhold, yet it took all of three minutes before Bisping found Rockhold's chin with a left hook and stole the UFC middleweight belt like a thief in the night.
The ensuing image of Parillo crossing his arms and nodding to Bisping from the fighter's corner will go down as one of the most memorable reaction shots in recent memory, and according to Parillo, it was completely off the cuff.
"It just was something that I knew was going to happen, really," Parillo said. "Coaches have a whole visionary thing going on with them, and (it was) definitely an ‘I told you so.' I grew up in a household where if my father was right, that's how he let you know he's right. He'd cross his arms and let you know, I told you so, whatever situation it was.
"And that was kind of my thought process as it was going on. I was real confident Michael was going to catch him. He was really setting up that left hook and putting everything together very well. He had Rockhold guessing there and he set up that left hook and I watched him do it, and I knew what was happening as it was going on. ... It was a big ‘eff you' to the doubters. It really was, because we've got to get our moments. It's an up-and-down game, this fight game. We've got to get our little cross-our-arms moment, right?"
If Bisping can avenge the worst loss of his career and successfully defend his UFC title against Henderson on Oct. 8, Parillo will certainly get another chance at a cross-our-arms moment -- and he wouldn't be surprised if a finish comes earlier rather than later for Bisping.
"I see him touching [Henderson] with whatever he wants," Parillo said. "I see him reading Dan, reading his movements. Mike's been in front of a lot of good fighters, good punchers, good everything. I mean, Luke Rockhold is a beast. He's a beast, and [Bisping] was reading him like a book. Anderson Silva is a beast and he was reading him like a book. Dan Henderson's got a different arsenal as far as his leverage and his power, but he also shows a lot more than these other guys do.
"They're a little bit more coordinated, a little bit more athletic, a little bit quicker. And reading guys like that, you just sort of bring it right over into the cage with Dan. Obviously he's going to have to be cautious, he's going to have to focus, and that's what's most important, because Mike knows how to react to whatever he needs to react to in there. It's keeping the head right, focused, and keep plugging away. He's going to hit him with everything."