He's got a zero in the loss column, but Michael Bisping's fight record is hardly unblemished.
Even though he's headlining the UFC's first card in the metropolitan New York area in more than six years, Bisping still finds himself explaining his last fight more than he does his upcoming match with undefeated Rashad Evans on Nov. 17 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Bisping won a split decision over bitter rival Matt Hamill on Sept. 5 in London in a bout that everyone, it seemed, but the Bisping family thought Hamill deserved to win. Even the vocal U.K. crowd seemed to turn on its hero, booing the outcome.
"Even a very good friend of mine, that night, he came up to me and said, 'You know mate, to be honest, I think you lost that fight,' " Bisping said.
The outpouring of anger among fans on the Internet was overwhelming, as they filled message boards with rants about the outcome.
And Bisping's behavior at the post-fight news conference, when he was surly and confrontational with reporters who questioned the outcome, further fueled that anger. His performance in front of the media after the bout was at odds with the nice guy image most had of him.
"I think most fans looked at Michael Bisping as a guy you'd want to go out and have a beer with and shoot the bull," UFC president Dana White said.
But his frequently boorish behavior at the post-fight news conference combined with the visual of a wronged Hamill sitting quietly and not complaining about his bad fortune, made Bisping out to be a bigger villain than, in Bisping's words, Saddam Hussein. It clearly wasn't what Bisping wanted and that negative image has hurt him more than a loss would have.
"Of course I care what people think, especially because I'm not that kind of a guy," Bisping said. "If you read the Internet message boards after that fight, I think I was more hated than Saddam Hussein.
"If I had a time machine, I'd go back in time and handle myself a lot differently than I did. Of course I felt I won the fight, but I had no business reacting to the journalists the way I did."
He may have had no business, but at least he has a plausible explanation for his behavior. What makes it easy to forgive him is that not only had he never acted that way previously, but he was privately dealing with a serious situation.
As he was headed to the post-fight news conference, he received a desperate call for help from his father, Jan, who was being accosted by fans outside the massive O2 Arena. A security guard put him on the back of a moped and they sped off in search of his father.
Unfortunately for Bisping, the guard turned the wrong way and they soon hit a dead end. The news conference was about to begin.
His presence was required, both as the hometown hero and as the winner in the night's most controversial outcome. Friends urged him to attend and told him they'd find his father and take care of him. Reluctantly, Bisping agreed.
"No excuses," Bisping said, "but look at what happened before I walked into that room from my perspective. My adrenaline was still moving fairly well from the fight. I'm hot and sweaty and concerned about my father. And all of a sudden I'm getting negative comments.
"I handled myself badly – I'm the first to admit that – but everything combined at that point and I just kind of had an eruption."
The controversy won't die down until Bisping goes back into the cage and cleanly defeats Hamill, but it has subsided to a large degree.
Many – included Bisping's friend who initially thought Hamill had won – have subsequently watched replays of the bout on Spike TV and came to a different conclusion.
The UFC's plan was to immediately stage a rematch, but because Hamill had minor knee surgery, White postponed it until next year.
And when he was looking for a main event for UFC 78 to place in the Prudential Center, it was a natural, he said, to choose Bisping and Evans. Bisping is looking to erase the stain of the Hamill fight and Evans is trying to rebound from a July draw with Tito Ortiz. Though he was criticized by some for putting Bisping and Evans atop the card instead of one of the company's big names, like light heavyweights Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva and Tito Ortiz, welterweight Matt Hughes or heavyweight Randy Couture, White said he never hesitated.
"Chuck Liddell is the biggest superstar in mixed martial arts and there is nobody close to him in terms of popularity," White said. "But after him, these guys are as big as anybody. They're the winners from Seasons 2 and 3 of The Ultimate Fighter. That is huge. They've been on TV many times. People know them. People like them.
"They're undefeated. They have things to prove. This is a great main event, if you ask me."
It matches a guy in Evans, who once fought at heavyweight, against a guy who is considering a drop to middleweight.
But Bisping, whose presence at 185 pounds could add sparkle to a lackluster division devoid of many serious challengers, doesn't see himself as being at a disadvantage size-wise.
A noted striker, Bisping plans to go out and create fireworks.
"That's the kind of fight the people want to see and that's the kind of fight I want to give them," Bisping said. "Rashad's a fantastic fighter, I'm aware of that. It's a dangerous fight for me. But I welcome that. I don't want to be fighting (easy opponents). When you face someone of this caliber, you get so excited and you get so ready.
"I've got a lot of incentive in this fight. I want to change people's minds, not only about how I acted, but about how I fought. If people didn't like what they saw the last time, I ask them to give me one more chance. I promise they're going to get what they want to see."
- Michael Bisping
- Matt Hamill
- Rashad Evans