UFC middleweight contender Michael Bisping (20-3) has never been shy when assessing his mixed martial arts skills. But heading into a UFC 120 main event showdown with Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-2) on Oct. 16 in London, Bisping recently admitted that despite all of the brash talk, it wasn’t until recently that he truly felt he could make a serious run at the title.
“Obviously, in the past I’ve talked about, you know, wanting to be the champion and ‘I’m going to be the world champion,’ and all this type of stuff,” Bisping said during a recent UFC medial call. “And if I’m honest, in the past, maybe I didn’t truly believe it. You know, I was just saying it because it was the thing you were supposed to say.
“But now everything’s coming together … I mean, I’ve been working with some new coaches. Mario Sukata, he’s always been my MMA coach, but I’ve [also] been working with some new striking coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, new boxing coaches, new wrestling coach, and everything’s just come together.”
Bisping also credits his additional experience and his brutal KO loss to Dan Henderson last year at UFC 100 for his new confidence and outlook. Since then, he’s defeated Denis Kang and Dan Miller, with a controversial decision loss to Wanderlei Silva his only recent setback.
“I feel now I’m really maturing as a fighter,” Bisping said. “And I’ve got the experience under my belt and my skills are all coming together.”
He continued, “I mean, I had a fight lost to Dan Henderson last year, you know, I made some mistakes. And, in hindsight, that was the best thing to ever happen to me. It made me go away and work hard on [correcting] mistakes I was making.”
Before Bisping can even think of challenging for a title, he has to get by Akiyama, a dangerous Judo black belt with heavy hands.
Akiyama recently enlisted the help of top MMA trainer Greg Jackson to help prepare for Bisping. Jackson also coaches UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans — a man who handed Bisping one of his three career losses.
While much has been made about the change and how it could help Akiyama’s UFC career, Bisping isn’t at all concerned about his opponent’s new training camp.
“With respect, I couldn’t care less who he trains with,” Bisping said. “He can train with anyone. What I’m focusing on these days is what I do, focusing on my training. And he can worry about what I’m bringing to the table.”
Bisping added, “He can go train anywhere for two weeks, but all the years of training that he’s done prior to that are what’s important.”
Nevertheless, Bisping knows that Akiyama poses a serious threat.
“I’m not overlooking Akiyama. I think he’s a very, very tough opponent, and I’m sure he’s going to be tough on the mat and I’m sure it’s going to be a great fight.
“I’m expecting him to come in hard and fast, looking for the knockout. Obviously, he’s got good judo.”
A win over Akiyama could move Bisping one step closer to his goal. But with his more mature outlook, Bisping knows that what matters are the results, not the pre-fight sound bytes.
“I feel I’ve got it in me to run for the title. I’m well rounded, and I’m one of the better athletes in there … I’ve got to put up or shut up. I’ve got to walk the walk. It’s all well and good me sitting here talking about it, you know. People don’t want to hear that; they want to see results.”