Michael Bisping’s next test inside the Octagon will be by far his toughest.
Announced as a coach for season nine of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, Bisping will meet the winner of the UFC 93 bout between one-time middleweight champion Rich Franklin and former dual Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson. The Franklin-Henderson victor will also coach against Bisping on TUF; a Spike TV representative on Sunday confirmed shooting on the show’s ninth season would commence in late January.
Though talk around Bisping continues to center on a potential showdown with reigning middleweight king Anderson Silva, he will have to clear at least one more hurdle before he throws leather with the champion.
“All people seem to be talking about is a title fight,” Bisping said. “You’ve got to earn that right for a title shot. Whenever it comes, I’ll be happy. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Have I done it yet? I probably haven’t yet. I don’t think I have. I don’t just want to be given it because I’m from the UK. I want to earn that right.”
Bisping (17-1) remained undefeated at 185 pounds on Saturday, as he picked up his third consecutive victory with a unanimous decision against Chris Leben at UFC 89 in Birmingham, England. The 29-year-old fought a measured tactical fight and refused to engage in a brawl with the cornrowed American. Bisping kept his distance, abused Leben with clean strikes to the head and used masterful footwork and movement in snapping his opponent’s two-fight winning streak.
“You’ve got to win fights, and that’s what I’m doing,” Bisping said. “I just take it one step at a time. I’m still improving. With every fight, I’m getting better and better.”
Leben (18-5) likes the skills Bisping brings to the cage.
“After the fight, Michael’s got to do the same thing any martial artist has to do -- re-evaluate his situation and figure out what the next fight is,” Leben said. “I can’t tell you if he’s going to do the right things or the wrong things, but if he does the right things, he’s definitely got the tools to get where every one of us wants to go. He beat me, and I thought I was going to the top.”
No matter who’s next on Bisping’s plate, the Brit’s level of competition figures to rise considerably. Franklin (24-3) has been defeated by only two men -- Silva (twice) and unbeaten light heavyweight contender Lyoto Machida. Henderson (23-7), a two-time Olympian, has never been knocked out in 11 years of mixed martial arts competition and holds high-profile victories against Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort and Kazuo Misaki.
“I want to beat the best guys in the division,” Bisping said. “I’m going to get the opportunity, and I want to take it with both hands.”
Paul Taylor and post-fight windfalls seem to go hand-in-hand.
Taylor (9-4-1) and Chris Lytle pocketed matching $40,000 bonuses for “Fight of the Night” following their memorable slugfest at UFC 89. Lytle (26-16-5) won a controversial split decision from the Englishman, who earned his third post-fight bonus in his last four appearances inside the Octagon.
“I knew he was going to stand there and bang with me,” Lytle said. “I was really just loading up and trying to hurt the guy. He dealt out as much as he was taking. It was a fantastic fight. I loved it. I hit him with some good shots, and I didn’t take him out. I was very impressed with him.”
Taylor also banked “Fight of the Night” honors at UFC 80 in a unanimous decision loss to Paul Kelly and at UFC 75 in a submission defeat to Marcus Davis. All told, the Walsall, England, native has racked up $115,000 in bonus money since he debuted in the UFC in April 2007.
Two other $40,000 bonuses were awarded in wake of UFC 89. Brazilian striker Luis Arthur Cane earned “Knockout of the Night” after he put away Team Quest’s Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou with second-round strikes. Meanwhile, Swedish lightweight Per Eklund was awarded “Submission of the Night” after he coaxed a tapout from Samy Schiavo with a third-round rear-naked choke.
Jardine waits for his turn at 205
Wins over reigning light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin and former titleholder Chuck Liddell notwithstanding, Keith Jardine remains a mystery man in the 205-pound title picture.
Jardine (14-4-1) handed Brandon Vera his first defeat at 205 pounds at UFC 89, earning a split decision at the charismatic Californian’s expense. In December 2006, Jardine stopped Griffin on first-round strikes at UFC 66, and both men have indicated they would welcome a rematch. For now, Jardine waits.
“The division’s weird,” he said. “Forrest is the champ right now, but who knows who the best guy is. It could be the number one guy; it could be the number 10 guy. There are a lot of undefeated guys there. There are a lot of guys coming up. I think it’s going to take a year or so to sort this thing out.”
Brutal knockout losses to Houston Alexander and Wanderlei Silva stymied Jardine’s momentum in the last year. However, a win over an opponent of Vera’s caliber can do nothing but raise his stock inside a division loaded with top-tier fighters.
“I’ve always considered Brandon the best kickboxer in the division,” Jardine said. “This was a huge fight. For me, I’m just starting over right now. I’m done messing around. I’ve had a couple big wins, a couple big losses. This fight for me was all about just changing my game a little bit and working my way to the top.”
Rashad Evans -- Jardine’s teammate at Jackson’s Submission Fighting in Albuquerque, N.M. -- will get the first crack at Griffin, who upset Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in July to capture the UFC light heavyweight crown. Evans and Griffin are slated to collide at UFC 92 in December. Jardine does not feel slighted by Evans’ good fortune.
“I think it’s a great thing,” he said. “We haven’t thought about Forrest yet, but we’re going to go to work here in a week or two and figure that one out.”
This & That
Does the UFC’s stacked light heavyweight division have yet another contender for which to make room? It appears so. Cane has finished back-to-back opponents since his disqualification loss to James Irvin at UFC 79 in December. The 27-year-old Brazilian still has never gone the distance as a professional and has secured eight of his nine wins by knockout or technical knockout … International Fight League veteran Jim Miler became only the second man to ever submit David Baron when he cinched a rear-naked choke in the third round of their welterweight battle. Takanori Gomi submitted the Frenchman at Pride “Bushido 12” in August 2006, also with a rear-naked choke … Heavyweight wrecking machine Shane Carwin pushed his record to 10-0 with his 1:31 annihilation of Neil Wain. The 33-year-old has stopped all 10 of his opponents; his bouts have lasted an average of 67 seconds … Akihiro Gono, who dropped a split decision to Dan Hardy in a preliminary welterweight fight, has not been finished since he was knocked out by Henderson at Pride “Bushido 9” in September 2005 … British fighters broke even at UFC 89, with wins from Bisping, Hardy and Terry Etim and losses from Taylor, Wain and Paul Kelly. Since the UFC returned to England in April 2007, British fighters are a combined 10-6 inside the Octagon on their home soil.