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Michael Bisping Is a Gatekeeper — And There’s Nothing Wrong With That

(I have no idea what this is, but it was too awesome not to share. Props: @bisping)

By Bear Siragusa

It has taken several weeks of back and forth, a wedding, and a lot of twitter trash talking directed at unrelated targets, but now it’s official: Michael Bisping will face Cung Le at UFC Fight Night Macau on August 23rd.

This will be a milestone in Bisping career. One way or the other.

On April 16th, at the TUF Nations Finale, Bisping made his long-delayed return to the Octagon against top middleweight prospect Tim Kennedy. The confrontation between the two men had been a long time in the making, with Kennedy making a proper pest of himself leading up to the fight, constantly goading his British counterpart.

The implications of this fight for the middleweight division were huge. “The Count,” while traditionally one of the UFC’s top middleweights, has never fought for the UFC middleweight title. He has reached title eliminator fights twice, losing both times: once to Dan Henderson, who left him as stiff as the proverbial British upper lip, and once to Chael Sonnen who earned a unanimous decision victory. Still, the list of Bisping’s victims is impressive. He has wins over Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Brian Stann, and Matt Hamill, and has proven himself to be the derail-er of many a title run.

Despite being a good-to-great fighter, Michael Bisping has never defeated any of the truly elite middleweights in the UFC. He blamed his most recent losses to Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen on a detached retina in his right eye, claiming that the damaged eye kept him from defending his right side effectively. After surgically repairing his eye, he said he was confident that he would be better than ever and make a immediate run for the title.

Tim Kennedy, on the other hand, has been touted as one of the top middleweight prospects in the UFC and top imports from Strikeforce. He cruised through his first two UFC fights against Roger Gracie and Rafael Natal, and on April 16thhe lived up to his hype and trash-talk be defeating Michael Bisping in a five-round unanimous decision.

The loss marked the first time Bisping has been defeated by an opponent who was ranked lower than he was. While Kennedy took one step forward in the rankings, Bisping took a step backwards. This shakes up the entire division. With Belfort’s return date still uncertain while he kicks TRT, Anderson Silva suddenly an unquantifiable entity, and Chris Weidman‘s staying power as champion somewhat untested, the middleweight division is in a state of upheaval.

Sure, it’s possible that we we’re seeing Tim Kennedy march toward becoming the greatest 185′er in the sport. More likely, Michael Bisping has declined from consistent title contender to permanent gatekeeper of the middleweight division. Every division needs a gatekeeper. The heavyweights have Roy Nelson, welterweight has Demian Maia and Jake Ellenberger, lightweight has Diego Sanchez — it’s an important position to occupy within a division.

Bisping has reached that crossroads in his career. Something which doesn’t seem to sit that well with “The Count.”

Immediately after his loss to Tim Kennedy at the TUF Nations Finale, Bisping took to twitter to find himself another opponent and a measure of redemption. The target of his twitter attack? Luke Rockhold, the man who Bisping had been tied with as the UFC’s #6 ranked middleweight (Bisping is now #8 and Rockhold is now #5) and former Strikeforce middleweight champion.

However, after his dominant victory over Tim Boetsch at UFC 172 via arm lock/kimura/pretzel/jaws of life, Rockhold called out Vitor Belfort (the last man to beat him) instead. He seemed uninterested in a potential bout with Bisping. So, now Bisping will face Cung Le, who has been inactive for so long that he is no longer even ranked in the division.

This could be an interesting fight, as both men have sustained long layoffs recently. Prior to his loss to Kennedy, Bisping was out for a year due to his eye injury, and Cung Le — who (oddly) was never among Bisping’s twitter antagonists — has been inactive since 2012 apart from his stint as couch for TUF China. A win over Bisping would prove the unranked Le’s relevance in a division that has changed dramatically since he last fought. (Anderson Silva was still untouchable in 2012, don’t forget.)

It’s a logical fight for Bisping, as he could knock off another well-known name and confirm his relevance in the division — not as a title contender at the moment, but as the invaluable gatekeeper of the middleweight division. For Bisping, who has lost three of his last four fights, ensuring his job security in a deep division is the best outcome he can hope for at this point.

But this match-up is a good one for Le as well. His last fight in Macau in 2012 was a win over former champ Rich Franklin. The two year break has killed his momentum as a fighter. A win over Bisping could get Le’s train rolling again. (Although at 42 years old, Le’s competitive future is limited.)

This fight is make or break for Bisping’s career. A loss will see him spiraling to the periphery of a very tough division. A win will perhaps make Michael “The Count” Bisping capitalize on his great worth as a gatekeeper of the middleweights. Who better than the “The Count” to stand in the Octagon and say, “You shall not pass”?

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