UFC middleweight Michael Bisping knows his time in the sport in limited. He’s 36 and has been alternating wins and losses in his bouts since 2011. If he’s going to put together the kind of win streak that inches him closer to his long-desired title shot, it’s basically now or never. That’s why he says he’s excited to be facing Thales Leites in the main event on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 72. Leites’ name isn’t the biggest of them all, but Bisping believes there are lots of upsides.
“No, I wasn’t disappointed,” Bisping told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s The MMA Hour of his feelings when he heard this is who he’d be facing. “In fact, I was given several options and this was the one I chose. Yes, he was beneath me, but unfortunately, the facts are the facts. He came back to the UFC. He’s on a five or six-fight win streak in the UFC and he’s doing very well. Of course, he’s always had the jiu-jitsu pedigree. Now he’s attempting to knock people out. He’s had some success with that. He’s a more complete fighter. So, he certainly brings a tough challenge.”
Leites is ranked in the top 10 of the middleweight division, but just barely. Yes, Bisping concedes, that’s not necessarily taking a step up the food chain, but putting together a win streak against ranked opponents is.
“My opponent before, that was Luke Rockhold, the no. 2 guy in the organization. It’s a bit of a step back in that respect, but as I said, he’s doing very well and he’s making names. He’s becoming a contender again, so if I beat this guy – I just beat [C.B.] Dollaway – I’ve been a perennial contender for what seems an eternity. I think a title fight is getting closer and closer. There isn’t that many guys in front of me. There really isn’t.
“Some of the guys are on a hiatus,” Bisping argues. “Some of them will never be the same. Some of them are feeling the effects of injecting themselves with so many steroids that they can’t take it. They simply probably won’t ever fight again. They’re probably going to open up a day care somewhere and look after little babies because they’re developing vaginas as we speak.”
Bisping knows how many times he’s been close. He acknowledges the UFC gave him the chances and he simply couldn’t convert. He also claims, however, that the amount of performance-enhancing drug users he’s faced has immeasurably impacted his career. That’s partly why he doesn’t believe he’s ever too far from a title shot. Middleweight’s changed, he believes.
“If I was to get a title shot, I don’t think there would be an uproar or an outcry. People would be like, ‘Yeah, OK, cool. Bisping’s getting his shot.’ I’ve been in a position for title fights before. I’ve been in no. 1 contender match-ups. Unfortunately, for me, I fought people that took steroids and they robbed me of those title fights. I lost the no. 1 contender fights.
“Lorenzo Fertitta came into my dressing room when I fought Vitor Belfort and said, ‘Listen, Anderson [Silva]‘s in the house tonight. If you beat Vitor, we want you to call out Anderson. He said, ‘Don’t start a riot because Brazilians are crazy, but if you want to call out Anderson, be my guest. The floor is yours.’ Now, of course, I lost that fight. I can’t be mad at the UFC. That’s down to nobody but me and Vitor, treating his backside like a dartboard.”
If anyone would be happy about the UFC’s alignment with USADA to test fighters in and out of competition, it’d be Bisping. He notes, however, the program is good in theory and he supports it, but it hasn’t really gotten off the ground.
“I’ve been tested zero times. I don’t think it’s been fully implemented yet. Of course, we’re going to see frequent out of competition testing, which is fantastic. Harsher penalties. More stringent testing, and that’s all great. I believe it will clean the sport up to a certain degree. Fact of the matter is human nature, as long as there’s been professional sports, people are always going to try and cheat. I think, human nature, some people are going to try and do that.
“When you fight in the main event, they know they’re going to be tested, but they think they can outsmart the system. There’s always going to be people that try and do that. Will they get away with it? That is the big question. Now there’s a higher percentage they’re going to get caught, but it’s not guaranteed they’re going to get caught. I just hope Thales Leites is a moral man. I hope he can look himself in the eye and I hope that he does the right thing and he hasn’t been cheating.”
In the end, Saturday for Bisping is about Rockhold or PEDs or USADA. It’s about Leites and where a potential win over him takes the Brit. It’s hard to say at this juncture, but Bisping is sure of one thing: he’s impressed with the career turnaround of his Brazilian opponent.
“For me, that’s the sign of a true fighter because a lot of guys could have a career like he did and he had a title fight, had some big fights, and then they get cut from the organization, then they pack it in. They become a coach or they go back to jiu-jitsu or whatever it may be. Thales actually went and fought all over the world, racked up some wins and actually got back in the UFC. That, to me, tells me he has the heart of a fighter and that he won’t give up in the fight, that he has the will to win. The fact that he fought his way back, that’s very impressive.
“But when I look at his fights, which I’ve done, his striking’s maybe got a little better, but when I look at his old fights, which I also have done, I don’t really see any difference,” Bisping argues. “I still see the same fighter. He still throws the same shots and he still looks for the takedown. I don’t really see him being all that much improved. He looks a little bigger. He’s obviously been on a very stringent strength and conditioning routine. That obviously paid dividends.”
There hasn’t been as much back and forth this time between Bisping and Leites, insofar as it comes to angry words and threats being exchanged. Leites took briefly to social media to express his belief he’d win via submission and Bisping responded, but it hasn’t been much more than that.
“People talk about trash talk,” Bisping observes. “I’ve never been a trash talker. I just say I think I’m going to win the fight and somehow that’s deemed as being trash talk-esque.”
In the end, though, what Bisping took away from the brief online exchange wasn’t the same kind of angry tension he shared with Rockhold or Belfort, but something familiar. It’s a part of every Bisping fight, it appears, and something he relishes. Bisping is routinely called out by opposition, almost more so than any other fighter in the division. The British middleweight says he likes it that way. It means his opponent is coming to fight, which means his win over them was hard earned. Where it takes him, though, is still up for debate.
“Good for him,” Bisping says of Leites. “Of course, he thinks he’s going to win the fight, as do I. That’s what makes it a fight.”
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