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UFC veteran Michael Bisping vows to put on a show in Shanghai

Editor: Zhang Jianfeng 丨CCTV.com

11-24-2017 17:51 BJT

By Colin Robinson

The Ultimate Fighting Championship will finally hold its first event on the Chinese mainland Saturday, 24 years after the world’s most successful mixed martial arts promotion was founded.

Michael Bisping. (2017 Brandon Mangus/Zuffa LLC)

Michael Bisping at an open workout ahead of UFC Shanghai. (Photo Credit: 2017 Brandon Mangus/Zuffa LLC)

With a big opportunity to establish itself here, the UFC has chosen the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai for its debut and is bringing a card with a strong local presence. The 12-fight event features eight Chinese fighters who will get the backing of their home crowd at the 18,000-seat venue.

The importance of the Shanghai event is not lost on British fighter Michael “The Count” Bisping, who has fought on five continents over his 11-year career with the UFC. A former middleweight (185 lb) champion, Bisping will be bringing international star power to Saturday night’s show, where he faces U.S. up-and-comer Kelvin Gastelum, another of the division’s top 10 fighters, in the main event.

“It’s a very significant event,” Bisping said. “There’s a steep history of martial arts [in China]. The UFC being the flag bearer of mixed martial arts, it’s long overdue, so I’m very proud to be in the main event.”

Change of plans

Just two weeks ago, Gastelum was preparing to fight another former champion, Anderson Silva.

But on Nov. 10, the UFC announced that the Brazilian had failed a drug test for the second time in his career. Silva was immediately pulled from the event, and the search was on for his replacement.

Enter Bisping: Fresh off a devastating loss earlier this month, where he was strangled unconscious and had to give up his middleweight belt to Canadian superstar Georges St. Pierre, Bisping was an unlikely—but not altogether surprising—choice.

Bisping is a divisive figure among MMA fans, but his bouts tend to be memorable and draw high ratings. His fight with St. Pierre was at the top of a much-hyped pay-per-view bill at Madison Square Garden, which pulled in a reported 875,000 PPV sales in North America alone. His notoriety and willingness to take fights at short notice made him the ideal candidate to replace Silva. 

Within 24 hours of Gastelum learning that his fight with Silva was off—news that the American said made him feel “sick to his stomach”—Bisping had already agreed to step in. A day later, it was official: Bisping would fight Gastelum just 21 days after being choked out by St. Pierre.

Higher stakes

Though Bisping is a late replacement, this fight may be even bigger than the original main event.

Five years ago, Silva ruled the middleweight division, racking up a then-record 10 successful title defenses. Meanwhile, Bisping, now 38, was a fixture in the top 10, but he was alternating between wins and losses, unable to put together a winning streak that would earn him a title shot.

The Brazilian has since lost four of his last six fights, including a defeat to Bisping in London; and with two failed USADA tests, his legacy is in tatters. In the same period, Bisping won, defended and then lost the championship; he is now ranked no. 2 in the division, while Silva sits well behind him in eighth place.

Gastelum, at 26 and ranked no. 9, is the youngest fighter in the division’s top 10. While the disparity between his and Bisping’s rankings could make the contest seem like a mismatch, Gastelum has made beating Bisping’s contemporaries—other 185 lb veterans—his forte. His recent victories include wins over ex-205 lb champion and former middleweight title contender Vitor Belfort, as well as Tim Kennedy, who twice fought for the world championship in the Strikeforce promotion. And should Gastelum succeed against Bisping, his journey to a title shot may become considerably shorter.

Memories of Macao

Though this is the UFC’s first card on the Chinese mainland, Bisping is no stranger to competing in this part of the world. The veteran fighter also headlined in the promotion’s third event in Macao (a special administrative region of China) back in August 2014, where he beat Cung Le, a Vietnamese-born American kickboxer.

Bisping has fond memories of that event, calling it one of the highlights of his career. “[Le] was throwing spinning kicks, and I was throwing spinning back kicks, and we were in Macao—I felt like I was in a real life ‘Bloodsport,’” he said. “It was a cool experience. The crowd were fantastic—a lot of energy, a lot of respect.”

As well as the events in Macao, the promotion has been taking steps to increase its profile on the mainland in the past few years. Its reality show The Ultimate Fighter: China aired on Liaoning Television from 2013 to 2014; and in 2016, the UFC signed a five-year exclusive rights agreement with a Chinese sports media provider.

Announced in July, Saturday night’s card represents many firsts for the UFC, including its first female Chinese fighters, Yan Xiaonan and Yanan Wu. Meanwhile, co-main event competitor Li “The Leech” Jingliang has an opportunity to continue his rise up the welterweight (170 lb) division when he takes on Zak Ottow of the U.S.

“That fight [in Macao] went my way, and I’m hoping Saturday night will be more of that,” Bisping said. “I’m hoping Saturday will top it.”

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