INGLEWOOD, Calif. >> Michael Bisping fought for 10 years and 25 UFC bouts to get the opportunity that finally arrived in a rush last month.
The 37-year-old middleweight has beaten stars, lost to drug cheats and made millions in mixed martial arts, but he had never fought for a UFC title. A flamboyant English bad boy who promotes as well as he fights, Bisping thrived for years as a villain before emerging as a grudging fan favorite for his verbal dexterity and sheer tenacity in a notoriously fleeting profession.
When an injured Chris Weidman suddenly dropped out of his rematch with middleweight champion Luke Rockhold two weeks ago, the promotion needed a replacement contender for the main event of UFC 199 at the Forum on Saturday night.
Bisping (29-7) suddenly had the opportunity he had craved for a decade, albeit with no training camp against an opponent who already beat him 19 months ago.
The circumstances aren’t ideal, and not many people outside his camp expect him to claim Rockhold’s belt. Bisping only sees the opportunity that eluded him for so long.
“I get to walk in on two weeks’ notice, I get to punch him in the face, and I finally get to become UFC champion,” Bisping said. “It’s my destiny.”
Bisping never gave up on his dream to wear a UFC title belt, but realized that he had faltered just often enough to make it unlikely.
He was on the brink of a title shot when Dan Henderson knocked him out at UFC 100 seven years ago. He lost another title eliminator in 2012 to Chael Sonnen, and that defeat began a string of four losses in seven fights culminating in that second-round submission loss to Rockhold (15-2) in Sydney.
But Bisping rebounded with a strong recent run capped by a cathartic victory over former middleweight champion Anderson Silva in February. Bisping also has plenty to occupy him outside the cage, including a comfortable family life in Orange County and an acting career.
In fact, Bisping was on set in Toronto, playing a bad guy opposite Vin Diesel in the latest chapter of the “xXx” extreme-sports action hero franchise, when Rockhold agreed to make his first title defense against him.
Bisping went straight from his movie into an even more familiar performance mode.
“All the pressure is on Luke,” Bisping said. “It’s very, very free mentally. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing. I have no pressure. I know I’m expected to lose. The world is expecting me to lose this fight, and that’s so nice. That feels good. I haven’t had 10 weeks of evaluating footage and going through the emotional roller coasters — feeling confident, feeling negative, feeling confident again and then negative again. I haven’t got time for that.”
Rockhold, a verbally gifted promoter himself, has promised a first-round finish amid countless unflattering descriptions of Bisping’s abilities and attitudes.
Yet Rockhold raised eyebrows Thursday when he acknowledged he has been training with a torn ligament in his knee that prevented him from working on kicks until the past week.
The champion still is a huge favorite among bettors, and even Bisping can’t argue with the odds against him. But don’t mistake Bisping’s realism for self-doubt: All that trash talk is underpinned by a real confidence in his abilities and toughness.
The former postman, furniture upholsterer and weekend DJ from Lancashire built an MMA career when the sport was largely unknown, and his win over Silva only underscored his self-certainty heading into an improbable opportunity to live his only remaining UFC dream.
“I’m expected to lose,” Bisping said. “That’s awesome, because I’m going to go out there and I’m going to show off to the world. I’m going to swing for the fences, and I’m going to push that guy up against the fence, and I’m going to unload with everything I’ve got right in his face. And, you know, I think it gets the job done.”