LONDON – Michael Bisping got a victory, but he was no winner on Saturday.
The records will show that Bisping raised his record to 14-0 with a split-decision victory over archrival Matt Hamill at UFC 75 before a sellout crowd of 16,235 at O2 Arena.
But Bisping handled himself with so little class afterward that his perception as one of the sport's good guys may have been shattered forever.
The Manchester, England, native has become the face of mixed martial arts in the United Kingdom, and it was deafening inside the O2 when Bisping walked to the cage with the strains of The Clash's "London Calling" blaring over the loudspeakers.
But when ring announcer Bruce Buffer read the verdict and officially handed the victory to Bisping, the arena roared its displeasure. Far more than half, it seemed, were irate at the outcome and booed the decision.
Judges Cecil Peoples and Jeff Mullen favored Bisping, 29-28, while British judge Chris Watts had Hamill, 30-27. I, too, scored it 30-27 for Hamill, though I can at least make a case for Bisping winning the second round.
Most of the media covering the fight had it for Hamill. The scoring of the bout was a more popular topic of conversation at the post-fight news conference – which did not include UFC president Dana White – than the results of the main event between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Dan Henderson.
As soon as UFC UK president Marshall Zelaznik opened the floor to questions, a British reporter asked Bisping if he felt he had won.
White, who said he felt Hamill won the fight two rounds to one, said he was told the man questioning Bisping was not a reporter, but rather a Hamill cornerman.
But instead of brushing it off and saying he felt he won and moving on, Bisping took a more unbecoming posture.
"Of course," Bisping said in an aggressive tone, which was much different than his witty, light-hearted persona in the days leading up to the fight. "Why would you talk to me like that?"
The questioner then responded, "Seriously?" which seemed to get Bisping further agitated.
"What do you mean, seriously?" Bisping said. "Do you want to go three rounds? … Of course I won the decision. Get the (expletive) out of here. Get that smile off your face."
And then Bisping made an obscene gesture.
The gesture carried the same kind of sentiment felt toward the judges by fans who watched the fight on Spike TV and later filled Internet bulletin boards with their complaints.
Many wanted to blame White for the call, though he had nothing to do with it.
"Do you know how many times I've been in the TUF Gym and after two rounds thought to myself, 'Well, we're going to a third round,' and they come up with a winner?" White said. "Sometimes what these judges do is hard to believe. But let me tell you this: I know what these kids put into these fights and there is no amount of money in the world that would make me take a fight away from them.
"I don't give a (expletive). We have a different model from boxing. Bisping is a big star in the U.K., but one loss doesn't kill a guy in the UFC. Rampage Jackson beat Chuck Liddell and now he and Chuck are both huge stars. It's a different thing than boxing. But bottom line, not a chance in the world I'd even think of trying to influence the judges."
But one practice the UFC has been using is going to have to stop in light of this controversy.
White has made no secret that he welcomes regulation and, largely for that reason, last year hired the highly respected Marc Ratner away from the Nevada Athletic Commission. One of Ratner's chief duties is to help get the sport sanctioned in jurisdictions where it is not.
The UFC doesn't hold events where there is no regulation in the U.S. However, even though there is no regulation of the MMA in the UK, UFC 75 was the company's third in the U.K. this year and its fourth ever.
And while it's clearly been a great business decision – Saturday's gate was $2.7 million and merchandise sales set an arena record, surpassing what was done at a Rolling Stones concert – it hasn't come without a price.
The UFC put Ratner in charge of regulating the fights in the U.K. He administered the weigh-in, oversaw the drug tests and appointed the referee and the judges. The UFC, White says, pays the judges when the fights are in the U.K.
I've known Ratner for nearly 20 years and can vouch that his integrity is unquestioned. I'd trust my life with him.
However, most people don't know Ratner as well as I do, and it raises ethical questions to have the promoter regulating the very fights he's promoting.
It leads to the wild speculation that is spreading across the Internet that the scoring was somehow part of a master plan hatched by White.
That, of course, is ridiculous. Mullen and Peoples, the judges who scored it for Bisping, are good men who simply made a mistake.
But because they were appointed by the UFC, their work can be – and has been – viewed more skeptically than, say, had they been appointed by the British Boxing Board of Control.
White said the UFC brought Simon Block, the general secretary of the BBBC, to the fights as its guest on Saturday in hopes the commission will opt to regulate MMA as well as boxing.
Until the U.K. creates a commission to regulate MMA, the only reasonable answer for the UFC is to not stage fights there until it does.
White, though, didn't see that as an answer.
"These controversies that come up don't mean a thing to me and they roll off my back with no problem because I know it's all (expletive)," he said. "We're the top dogs and every little thing we do is news and people create these wacky (expletive) conspiracies. The bottom line is, we've embraced regulation, we want the sport to be regulated everywhere, but I'm not going to stop putting fights in the U.K. just because they don't have a commission."
It will hurt business-wise, but it's the only reasonable option.
And, while they're at it, the UFC honchos should mandate a rematch between Bisping and Hamill.
White said the rematch is "a no-brainer and I'm going to be on it right away."
Having them fight again in a place where an official athletic commission will oversee the affairs is the only way to remove the stench surrounding UFC 75.
- Michael Bisping
- Matt Hamill