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Michael Bisping’s latest title bid can't help but tune up your heartstrings

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

During a single night in London, Michael Bisping caught Anderson Silva clowning in the second round, and came very close to putting him on the dream flow. By the end of the third, it was Silva — after crashing home a ridiculous flying knee — who was celebrating atop the Octagon walls, feigning no English as the words "come on down, the fight’s not over" kept trying to ruin his fun. By the end of the fifth, with Bisping’s face looking like an old cover of Fangoria, it was the Englishman who got his name called.

What an encounter that was.

The 37-year old Bisping won the biggest fight of his career via unanimous decision in front of his countrymen, defeating the most decorated champion in UFC history. He’s now won three in a row and — for what seems like the hundredth time — is positioned for a title shot.

Imagine that.

No matter how many times we fold Bisping up and put him away, he comes crashing back into relevance. Just when you think you’ve heard the last of his Manchester accent blasting some so-and-so, he gets his own radio show. Just when you think he’s finally gone belly-up after losing two of three against Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold, he comes marching back over the hill accompanied by the lurid sounds of the flute.

Bisping is a master of spite.

Yet it’s hard not to feel good for him, especially when he wears the toil of his journey so clearly on his features. Go take a look at the Bisping who appeared on The Ultimate Fighter 3 ten years ago, and contrast it against the one who stands poised for a title shot a decade later. The man has traversed through the center of hell — and even visited a few of its suburbs — to get here. His eyes don’t add up. His brow has been pounded into thick leather. His ears are wads of old chewing gum. The deep lines of aging have become indistinguishable from the scars, all the little souvenirs of 25 bouts in the UFC.

And yet, while so many feckless others have come and gone, there’s Michael Bisping, still positioning himself for a title shot. At some point, you’ve got to give it him. Make it like a lifetime achievement award. He’s earned it. Especially after the epically bizarre way in which he made his latest case.

His fight with the 40-year old Silva will go down in the annals as something special, if for no other reason than it distilled both men’s entire biographies into 25 minutes of action. Silva didn’t look like the old Silva, yet nor did he look like an old Silva. He was every Silva that ever was. There were flashes of the preternatural movement and striking that for years made him a bogeyman at 185 pounds (and occasionally at 205). He took Bisping apart at times. When the fight stalled he tried the hypnosis technique with his hands, doing that familiar air origami, trying to intoxicate some senses. And, as Silva does, he landed effective shots in the process.

That Silva, the magic man, has always been a thing of amazement.

Yet there was the other Silva, too, the one who drops his hands and — in an attempt to either psyche his opponent out or psyche himself up, it’s never really been known — opens his chin up for business. Bisping caught him in the second round, just like Chris Weidman did a couple of years ago to bring the whole franchise down. Still, Silva should have won against Bisping. He did win. But he toyed with his food. Then he lost.

Everything that Silva was, is, could be and isn’t anymore was on display in London.

Same for Bisping, who treated this fight like a dream come true for a fighter who could never quit dreaming. There really is no greater testament to his will and everlasting perseverance that his fight against Silva. He took his lumps. He was left for dead at the end of the third when, against better judgment, he took his eyes off Silva to complain about his dislodged mouthpiece. That flying knee damn near proved a thousand critics right that he can’t win in big spots. Yet somehow, as Silva sat atop the fence basking in his triumph, Bisping slowly gathered his wits.

He regrouped. He came back.

He won the fourth round. He kept coming forward. His face — cut at angles above the brow, below it, and across the bridge of the nose — was just wheezing blood. He could take whatever Silva might dish, as long as the fight would last. Silva won the fifth, but Bisping won the fight. He’s now 17-0 when fighting in the U.K. He put the country on the map in the mixed techniques a decade ago, and still wants to give his country a title. It’s because of him that the UFC keeps coming back.

It’s because of that extraordinary something in him constantly overruling the desire to quit that he does too.