LAS VEGAS -- People knew things before we did -- that’s what we suspect we know now. That’s why the fight week buildup to Michael Bisping and Jason Miller -- a fight with vague insinuations toward a high contender spot -- is unique. Unique in a short shrift kind of way for the headliners.
Traditionally leading up to a fight card, there are open workouts to attend, a news conference, a definitive place to be for the weigh-ins and media mixers. For Spike’s final broadcast show, the finale of the 14th season of "The Ultimate Fighter,” it has all the hype of a straight to DVD movie. There are acrimonious underpinnings between the UFC and Spike. Where once it was a powerful relationship full of unified presence, now you have to pay active attention to know what’s going on. The hurtful last words that aren’t being said? “We’ll always have Griffin/Bonnar.” In lieu of a news conference, the UFC held a press junket of sorts inside the Fantasy Tower at the Palms. Dana White was out of town.
Through this whole thing, Michael Bisping is and has been the odd man out. The Briton is used to floodlights surrounding his bouts, large arenas during them, and media blitzes before and after to activate his peeves. That’s only part of it. Bisping is within periscope range of a title shot, and beating Miller won’t likely advance his cause. In fact, it was originally thought that Bisping was fighting well beneath him, back when the UFC was trying to saddle him against Chael Sonnen as the coaches on TUF 14.
“Fighting Jason, I don’t think he gives me the right to fight for a title,” Bisping told ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto earlier this week. “He’s not the name. He’s not the guy to do it.”
Think about that. Bisping took 10 months off between fights to make a crab-like movement toward the title. For exposure? Doubtful. Bisping is a resident TUFer by now. This was his third stint on the show (once as a participant, twice as a coach). Maybe we’re looking at his sentence for the spitting incident that occurred against Jorge Rivera.
Of course, people have warmed to Miller’s chances over the course of the last couple of months, to the point that many wouldn’t even view it as an upset should he pull it off. He returns to the Octagon after nearly seven years, and “return” is a funny word for a guy who has but one cameo appearance in the promotion, back at UFC 52 against Georges St. Pierre. With Miller having fought in Dream and Strikeforce -- to go along with his outsized cult of personality -- this one has an interleague vibe going on that’s hard to get a firm grasp on. How does it play out?
If the week leading up is any indication, quietly.
TUF lessons from El Cucuy
Last season’s TUF winner, Tony Ferguson, is on this weekend’s card as well. He won the season as a broadcast welterweight, and before that achievement could even sink in “El Cucuy” cut down to be a lightweight and fought Aaron Riley’s at UFC 135. How did that pan out? Riley was eating from a tube after a brutal left uppercut broke his jaw. For all the talk about TUF no longer producing threatening talent to the established names in the sport, Ferguson looks like a huckleberry.
“If you want your life to change, then don’t get stuck up in all the B.S. that goes along with it, all the people that come around -- just keep doing what you do,” he told Ariel Helwani in response to what advice he’d give future TUF alum. “Keep doing what you were doing just before you got to the Ultimate Fighter" show. Make sure that you’re still giving 150 percent inside the gym everyday, and make sure nothing gets to your head. Why? Because true champions are made that way.”
Doesn’t sound like a guy who is resting on his laurels.
Miller’s Chael moment
Essentially Jason Miller got his chance to coach on "The Ultimate Fighter" because Chael Sonnen was still suspended when it came time to sign on the dotted line. Miller isn’t Sonnen, but he has had the pleasure of fighting Sonnen back a decade ago on something called “Rumble on the Reservation” in California.
“You mean when he double-legged me through the cage?” Miller told ESPN.com. “I got hurt from that s---, too, because I went through the bottom of the floor. We broke through the cage, and I twisted my ribs because he fell on me so hard. That was crazy. We were fighting on an Indian Reservation. I was selling tickets outside with my hands wrapped. That’s how crazy it was. It was a weird thing.
“So, yeah, we broke right through the floor. Then they tried to fix it for like three minutes, and I was getting angry, because I wanted to get [Sonnen] back for that. So I was standing in the corner going, ‘what the hell.’ And finally the referee was like ... alright, let’s continue, but don’t go over there [pointing to broken floorboards]. Avoid that spot. Fight over there [pointing to safe end]. So we had a weird gentleman’s agreement not to go over there [toward the hole]. It was kind unspoken. It was crazy.”
Miller lost the decision, but gained a piece of lore.