Long-time UFC mainstay Michael Bisping has drawn what looms as a critical homecoming assignment at Fight Night 83. “The Count” will continue his pursuit of an elusive title shot when he squares off against Gegard Mousasi on Feb. 27 in London. The clash at O2 Arena will mark Bisping’s first Octagon appearance in England since his 2010 victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama.
The seventh-ranked Bisping had successful surgery on his elbow after an injury forced him out of a UFC 193 matchup against Robert Whittaker. While rebooking that matchup would’ve seemed reasonable after “The Reaper’s” victory in Australia over injury-replacement Uriah Hall, matchmakers opted to go in a different direction.
The bout with Mousasi still provides the Season 3 winner of The Ultimate Fighter with the top-10 opponent he needs. Bisping has recorded back-to-back wins over C.B. Dollaway and Thales Leites. He earned a split-decision nod over Leites after a hard-fought main event in Glasgow, Scotland.
The 36-year-old Bisping has enjoyed a successful and very lengthy tenure with the promotion. He’s always had a reputation for his ability to sell a fight and delivers an honest effort. Volume striking and tremendous conditioning have been Bisping trademarks during his 24-fight UFC career. The colorful veteran still has designs on securing a future title opportunity, and can keep those faint hopes alive with another triumph against Mousasi. His brash personality has made him a target, as Bisping has been consistently called out by his fellow competitors over the years. He’s never had a hard time finding potential opponents.
While Bisping has been a perennial contender, he hasn’t been able to get over the hump in his biggest fights. He was dominated by No. 1 contender and former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold in a key grudge match at Fight Night 55, and failed in title eliminators against Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson. Bisping also saw his title hopes evaporate back in 2013 when he was knocked out by Vitor Belfort in Brazil. A victory in that contest against “The Phenom” likely would’ve punched his ticket to a championship battle with Anderson Silva.
The future of the middleweight division will become clearer after the UFC 194 title affair between undefeated champion Chris Weidman and Rockhold, and a potential title eliminator between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel Romero. With the winners likely to square off in 2016, Bisping is going to need at least two more high-quality triumphs before he likely joins the title conversation. He definitely brings instant name recognition and has been a solid foot-soldier for the organization. With Bisping currently on a two-fight run, a win over Mousasi and perhaps a top-five contender, like a Lyoto Machida, could be his route to a future title fight.
Mousasi is a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and DREAM middleweight titlist. He’s had a rather up-and-down UFC tenure. Mousasi looked terrific in first-round finishes of Mark Munoz and Henderson, but has sustained losses at the hands of Machida, Souza and Hall. Mousasi’s shocking second-round knockout loss to “Prime Time” at Fight Night 75 in Japan marked the first time in his 45-fight career that he’d been finished via strikes.
The 30-year-old Mousasi originally entered the promotion as a light heavyweight and made a successful debut against Ilir Latifi. After undergoing knee surgery, Mousasi elected to test the middleweight waters and it’s been a rougher ride than expected. A victory against Bisping on enemy soil would be the biggest of his UFC career. Don’t expect to see Mousasi get involved in a trash-talking war with his opponent, as he traditionally lets his fists do his talking.
Mousasi is no stranger to facing elite competition and is a proven finisher. He owns other notable career victories over Ovince St. Preux, Renato Sobral, Mark Hunt and “Jacare.” His technical boxing skills and slick ground game have contributed to 31 wins by knockout or submission. The No. 9-ranked “Dreamcatcher” can be a tough chore for anyone on his best night, but needs to find some consistency in his performance-level to be seen as a legitimate title threat.
This shapes up as a highly intriguing crossroads clash between two talented competitors looking to stay relevant in a tough middleweight landscape. There’s no doubt that the winner will be in line for future marquee matchups. The sense of urgency would seem to be higher for Bisping. He’s in the midst of what is a final push towards a possible title fight, and a setback would be a crippling blow at this stage of his career.