Remember when Michael Bisping was always the guy who couldn’t get over the hill? Or how he was pretty good, but never great? In one of the craziest stories in MMA history, Bisping has completely turned the corner and can safely lay claim to the title of “Fighter of the Year” in 2016.
If you would’ve told someone a few years back that Bisping would be the UFC middleweight champion to close out 2016, they’d more than likely laugh in your face. Since entering the UFC’s ranks over 10 years ago, Bisping was the original outlet for the UFC’s expansion into the United Kingdom and Europe. He was as big of an international star as one could get in the promotion. Yet, the respect of being among the best fighters at 185 pounds always eluded the Englishman.
He certainly didn’t help his case along the way, slinging insults (and other things) toward everyone in his way. His skills in the cage were always overshadowed by the brash bravado outside of it. People may have embraced his persona while he was on The Ultimate Fighter, but they quickly turned on him during his initial UFC run. He’d always manage to string together a few victories in a row, only to lose once he faced stiffer competition. The consensus opinion was Bisping could win a lot, but he couldn’t win the big one.
However, something changed after his loss to Luke Rockhold in 2014. Whether it was Jason Parillo’s work paying off or the testosterone replacement therapy era coming to an end is up for discussion. There’s no doubt that both have had an overwhelming effect on Bisping’s resurgence. Parillo is one of the best coaches in the game, even though he might not always receive the props he deserves. Parillo is the man behind Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and B.J. Penn — Hall of Fame Penn, not the recent incarnation — and the results speak for themselves. However, it’d be silly to not acknowledge Bisping’s run has coincided with the UFC cracking down on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. After all, look at some of his losses: Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort. All these men have been associated with TRT or PED use.
Bisping’s success, combined with the decline of pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva, put the two on a collision course in February. Bisping had been asking for a shot at “The Spider,” but he was always met with either disinterest or laughter from the fans. There’s no denying that a Bisping challenge of Silva for the UFC title would’ve produced some of the most lopsided betting lines in UFC title history a few years ago. However, this is 2016 and Bisping was about to turn everything upside down.
Always an afterthought in the UFC middleweight title picture, Bisping completely shattered the glass ceiling above him. It began with Silva in February. Silva is considered one of the all-time greats, even in decline, but Bisping survived some scary moments to take a unanimous decision over the Brazilian. It was, without a doubt, the biggest win of Bisping’s career. Silva isn’t the same one-shot murderer he once was, but that shouldn’t erase the fact that the guy most people never thought twice about took a unanimous decision against one of the greatest fighters in MMA history. However, Bisping’s incredible story was just getting started.
The crowning jewel of Bisping’s tumultuous UFC run came at UFC 199 against Rockhold. Stepping in on only a few days’ notice, Bisping was in a familiar underdog role. Rockhold, the UFC champ at the time, was coming off an impressive stoppage of Chris Weidman and looked to be on another level. Short-notice fighters are typically viewed as the underdog, and it’s a view that became amplified with Bisping stepping in against Rockhold. Fans weren’t discussing whether or not Bisping could win, but rather what round and by what method Rockhold would have his hand raised.
To the shock of nearly everyone — except Parillo, who provided one of the best GIFs in MMA history — Bisping cracked Rockhold in the opening round. The fighter nobody could envision being labeled as elite had just taken out arguably one of the best middleweight fighters in a matter of minutes. It was a surreal moment, a journey from the days of UFC on Spike TV cards to UFC champion.
Bisping may have had a solid case for “Fighter of the Year” if he had ended 2016 after he was crowned UFC champion. However, his last fight of the year cemented his place as the top guy in the sport this year.
Bisping was facing Dan Henderson, the man who knocked him out in such dramatic fashion that the knockout was used as part of his clothing line logo. Bisping put on the performance of a lifetime. He once again found himself rocked by H-bombs throughout the contest. This time, however, the Brit survived and wound up with a unanimous decision. It was not only a way for Bisping to wrap up a loose end in his career, but it provided a must-see moment in time for Bisping. Up until 2016, the highlight-reel moments involving Bisping came at his expense. Now, it’s the Englishman’s time to put some of his rivals on his own highlight reel.
Bisping took out arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history, one of the best middleweights in MMA history and an eventual UFC Hall of Famer all in one year. How can you deny Bisping the title of “Fighter of the Year”? He has the accomplishments — three wins and a title victory — and the highlight moments — surviving Silva’s flying knee, dropping Rockhold in the first round and a “Fight of the Year” candidate with Hendo — to form the perfect recipe to be the best fighter to strap on a pair of four-ounce gloves in 2016.