All these years, Michael Bisping had Anderson Silva in his sights.
Many times, the plucky middleweight from Manchester, England, seemed to be one fight away form a matchup with the division's longtime champion, only to come up short when it mattered most.
Bisping finally had his opportunity Saturday in London. And while Silva is nearly three years removed from from his championship reign, the evening still turned out to be Bisping's crowning moment.
In one of the wildest, most emotional fights full of twists and turns you'll ever see in any combat sports setting, Bisping earned a unanimous decision in the main event of UFC Fight Night 84 at London's O2 Arena, earning 48-47 across-the- board scores.
A battered Bisping, with the Union Jack draped around his shoulders, shed tears through the crimson mask on his face as he addressed the crowd.
"All I know is I wanted this fight my entire life," said Bisping. "I'm one of you guys, I'm a guy from a normal background and you guys give me the opportunity. I don't know what to say, I'm crying."
Bisping was a clearcut winner in the fight's opening two rounds. While Silva went for the sort of head games that pushed him to a 17-fight win streak during his seven-and-a-half year title run, dropping his hands, moving backwards, leaving his chin out, Bisping stayed focused.
He landed crisp shots, darting in and out with combos. He dropped Silva with a right hand late in the first round. He dropped Silva with a shot to the jaw again in the second.
At the end of the first round, Silva had attempted to embrace Bisping, who shoved him away. There were no such theatrics at the end of the second.
Then things took a dramatic turn late in the third. Bisping had his mouthpiece knocked out. The fight continued. Bisping, making a major mental lapse, stopped fighting and asked Dean for his mouthpiece. When he turned, Silva landed a flying knee that came close to knocking Bisping out, as he crumpled to the mat.
But SIlva, too, made a major mental error, going into celebration mode instead of finishing the fight, as Dean had never waved it off. In the confusion, the horn sounded. Silva jumped atop the cage, only to be told the fight was continuing.
In the long delay between rounds, Bisping regained his sense, and the fight turned into a battle of attrition in the fourth. Bisping got the best of round four, despite getting hit with a brutal kick to the groin. Later in the round, Silva took a finger in the eye, necessitating another timeout.
The fifth was Silva best round of the fight, as he landed a wicked face kick which nearly finished the fight. But the ultra-tough Bisping fought through it and got to the horn, as Silva couldn't finish him.
If you were judging the bout by PRIDE scoring, on the contest as a whole, Silva might have got the nod, but Bisping took three rounds to two in the unified, round-by-round scoring system.
While the buildup to the fight featured wild trash talk, with Bisping going after Silva's PED suspension from last year, and Silva basically mocking Bisping's lack of wins in his biggest fights, Bisping was respectful and gracious in victory.
"The beef between me and Anderson is settled," said Bisping (28-7), winner of four out of his five past fights. "I worship this guy, greatest of all-time, I know I said things, but the respect I have for you ... I wanted to be you. You were the guy I wanted to be."
The 41-year old Silva does not have an official victory since his Oct. 2012 finish of Stephan Bonnar, going 0-3 with a no-contest since. He made a statement in Portuguese, which, according to Brazilian-based MMAFighting.com reporter Guilherme Cruz, questioned the integrity of the decision.
"Brazil, if you can't win one way, they take it away," Silva (33-7 1 NC) said. "That's it, mission accomplished, sometimes not. It's like in Brazil, total corruption."