Michael Bisping
Al Powers for ESPN.com

A step back for Bisping?


Can you hear Bisping knocking?

Gross By Josh Gross

A little experiment before we begin.

Michael Bisping ...


(One more beat.)

Did you boo?

Regardless of your reaction, can we agree that after four straight wins, including Saturday's decisive finish of Jason Miller, the 32-year-old Englishman is in line for some respect? Can we be reasonable here and suggest that no matter what people think of a fighter's attitude or personality, results matter more than anything else? And if that's the case, which I've always believed it to be, then, yes, the boo-bound Bisping has to have elevated himself to a place where with one more victory, this time against a top contender, the man everyone loves to hate will have become an unavoidable player in the UFC middleweight title picture.

Soak it in, folks. This is the reality many of you might soon have to deal with.

Disparaging Miller for his failure to maintain poise is fine, so long as you recognize "The Count" had a major hand in why that happened.

"Mayhem" showed up to fight. He didn't deliver, but he was willing. And so, not only did Bisping do what was required of him via technique and experience and determination, he did it all well. If you're not capable of recognizing that, then you most certainly are the sort whose veins bulge and blood pressure spikes at the sight and sound of the man.

How, I wonder, would you react if he defeats Vitor Belfort or Anthony Johnson? If you don't think it's possible, look again at Bisping the fighter. Forget Bisping the jerk. Just look at the guy as a mixed martial artist. MMA is an exercise in attrition, and with a 22-3 record over a seven-year career, Bisping has plenty to feel good about. There are reasons he deserves respect, even if you and your buddies loathe the idea.

Defeating Miller isn't the key to a title shot, nor an indication that Bisping is at the level to earnestly vie for a belt, but it certainly knocked open the door some more. In that sense, of course, he's better off after the win. His stock is obviously on the rise. A loss would have ruined his title hopes and had people dancing in the streets. Neither happened, which suggests he's closer than ever to making his haters hate harder than they ever have. As these things go, that's all the proof Bisping needs that his pro life is as good as it's ever been.

Ho-hum win did more bad than good

McNeil By Franklin McNeil

The process of landing a UFC title shot isn't complex. But most fighters, regardless of how hard or long they try, will never experience a championship bout. Many will come close by winning enough fights to earn contender status. But in the UFC, winning is only part of the equation.

Matchmaker Joe Silva demands that fighters put on exciting performances as well, which brings us to Michael Bisping. The ESPN.com seventh-ranked middleweight stepped into the Octagon on Saturday on a three-fight win streak, looking to improve his contender status with a win over Jason Miller. Miller, who made a UFC cameo against Georges St. Pierre in April 2005, got a second Octagon opportunity due more to his sometimes-eccentric personality than fighting skills. He wasn't expected to beat Bisping, and he didn't -- getting stopped in the third round. But Miller was expected to put up a fight -- and he failed in that department. Miller offered one good round of fighting (the first). Midway through the second, he was exhausted -- huffing, puffing and barely able to lift his hands.

To see a professional athlete compete on his sport's grandest stage, on the biggest night of his career, and look unprepared was disappointing. But Miller's shortcomings offered Bisping a golden opportunity to deliver a standout performance, and he failed to do so. In the opening round, Miller gave Bisping all he could handle. And keep in mind that this is a top-10 middleweight (Bisping) struggling against a guy whose standup-striking skills are well-below average.

Bisping didn't find his punching range until two minutes into the second round.

The intent here isn't to dismiss Bisping's victory. The win keeps him in the ESPN.com middleweight top 10; it just doesn't push him closer to a title shot. But don't just take my word. Bisping was the first to express disappointment in his effort against Miller.

"I wasn't happy with that performance to be honest," Bisping said. "I want to challenge for the middleweight title, and a first round like that would not have cut the mustard."

Bisping's less-than-stellar performance came at an inopportune time. Just before his bout, UFC announced that Chael Sonnen and Mark Munoz will compete Jan. 28 in a middleweight title eliminator. A solid performance would have allowed Bisping to surpass the loser in the 185-pound pecking order, regardless of how Sonnen-Munoz plays out. But that isn't the case now: A close contest between Sonnen and Munoz will likely keep Bisping behind each of them.

Message to Bisping: Winning is good, but doing it impressively is better. Sonnen and Munoz won their most recent fights in impressive fashion and against higher-quality opposition. Fortunately for Bisping, he gets to erase this outing in his next fight. But he will be under greater pressure to win in exciting fashion.


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