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Analysis: Bisping must earn title shot at UFC on FX 7 or forget about it for good

Bisping gets long-awaited meeting with Anderson Silva if he beats Vitor Belfort

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COURTESY OF UFC

Vitor Belfort (left) and Michael Bisping (right) are separated by Marshall Zelaznik (center), UFC Managing Director of International Development, at a press conference today at Hilton Hotel in São Paulo. The middleweights fight this Saturday on FX (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

UFC on FX 7 complete card

  • Middleweight bout: Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort
  • Middleweight bout: Daniel Sarafian vs. C.B. Dollaway
  • Heavyweight bout: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Ben Rothwell
  • Lightweight bout: Thiago Tavares vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
  • Featherweight bout: Godofredo Castro vs. Milton Vieira
  • Middleweight bout: Ronny Markes vs. Andrew Craig
  • Featherweight bout: Diego Nunes vs. Nik Lentz
  • Lightweight bout: Edson Barboza vs. Lucas Martins
  • Bantamweight bout: Yuri Alcantara vs. Pedro Nobre
  • Light heavyweight bout: Wagner Prado vs. Ildemar Alcantara
  • Lightweight bout: Francisco Trinaldo vs. C.J. Keith
  • How to watch: Main card on FX at 6 p.m., preliminary card on FUEL TV at 3 p.m. and first fight streaming on Facebook at 2:35 p.m.

Michael Bisping should have plenty of options for what to pursue when his fighting career eventually comes to an end.

The 33-year-old Briton could probably sell sunscreen and bikinis on the North Pole, for instance, or join a downtrodden politician’s re-election campaign and turn it into a close race.

Persuasion and promotion are near the top of the list of skills Bisping has mastered during his eight-year run in the UFC. Look no further than the way Bisping pushed himself to the front of the 185-pound division’s title queue over the past two years despite the lack of a single marquee victory.

This isn’t to say he’s an unworthy challenger for middleweight champion Anderson Silva. It’s just that Bisping needs to prove it, once and for all, Saturday. Bisping (23-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) needs to beat Vitor Belfort (21-10 MMA, 10-6 UFC) in the main event of UFC on FX 7 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, or forever kiss his championship aspirations goodbye.

“If Bisping wins, he’ll get the shot,” UFC President Dana White promised.

That’s the way it should be. Before the UFC’s troubling recent trend of granting title shots off of losses — to Frankie Edgar at UFC 156, to Nick Diaz at UFC 158 and to Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 — Bisping was the original fighter to benefit from a defeat.

Bisping dropped a unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) in a top-contender bout against Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2 last year. But the nature of the fight and Bisping’s defiance afterwards somehow boosted his profile.

Bisping was adamant that he hadn’t lost, that the judges erred in their decision. Despite most of the media scores agreeing with the judges — Las Vegas Sun scored the bout 30-27 for Sonnen — and official stats provided by FightMetric supporting the decision, Bisping never budged.

He said he continued watching the fight months afterwards and came to the same conclusion.

“I sat on the couch with a beer when the kids went to bed, watched it, watched it again and watched it again,” Bisping said last year. “Every time I watched it, I thought I won rounds one and two.”

Bisping must be one of the only fighters in the UFC whose defining performance came in a loss. Suddenly, after facing Sonnen, he was embraced as a legitimate challenger.

“The Count” picked up further steam by winning a unanimous decision over Brian Stann at UFC 152 last September in another close call that White felt Bisping lost. That’s been the story when Bisping has met above-average competition in the octagon — tight decisions and disputed results. He hasn’t separated himself from the pack.

Seven of his 17 bouts in the UFC, all wins, came against fighters who are no longer with the promotion. Bisping, in other words, has gone 6-4 against comparable competition, which is respectable but not outstanding.

Bisping also lost to the four most notable foes he encountered — Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans.

“I could have gotten a title shot,” Bisping said, “but I lost in a couple pivotal moments. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Everything sets up perfectly for Bisping to leave those memories behind in Brazil. Belfort, one of the sport’s most recognizable faces ever since he won a UFC tournament as a 19-year-old in 1997, is the only one standing between Bisping and Silva.

The middleweight division’s true top contender, Chris Weidman, is out with an injured elbow. Tim Boetsch, who had won four in a row at 185 pounds, lost to Costa Philippou at UFC 155.

As usual, Bisping’s brashness has drawn all the attention. After Belfort referred to him as a “hooligan,” Bisping let his mouth take over.

“That comment was probably made as a joke, but for me, I’m going to fight this guy, so I take that personally because I need to,” Bisping said at a press conference. “I like to take any little thing and turn it into a big thing to get me emotional, to get me mad because at the end of the day this isn’t a game of tennis. We are going to get in there and fight. If I’m a little (mad) at the guy, then I’ll fight a hell of a lot better.”

When the two posed for a staredown photo, Bisping slapped Belfort’s arm away from his face twice. A motivated Belfort wouldn’t back down.

“Let’s stop talking and do this for real,” Belfort said. “I’m ready for Saturday night. I’m excited for the crowd that will be there with me. The victory is my target, and he’s not going to stand in the way.”

Bisping has received numerous chances against the division’s elite fighters. Now it’s time to show he can defeat one of them.

He may have built himself up to this point with talk, but he’s got an opportunity to earn a fight with Silva the right way.

“I’d like to get a title shot on my own merits,” Bisping said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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