Five years ago, the mere suggestion that his win over Matt Hamill in the O2 Arena at UFC 75 on Sept. 8, 2007, in London was unjust evoked an over-the-top, angry response from Michael Bisping.
That response was one of the primary reasons Bisping quickly became one of the most hated fighters in the UFC.
He's no less hated today – his taunts directed at UFC 152 opponent Brian Stann in his Yahoo! Sports blogs have outraged many in the fan base – but he has mellowed just a touch.
He's finally willing to concede there was room for debate in the scoring of the fight, which Bisping won by split decision. Judges Cecil Peoples and Jeff Mullen scored it 29-28 for Bisping, while Chris Watts had it 30-27 for Hamill.
"Listen, it was a really, really close fight, a lot closer than maybe I gave credit for after the fight," Bisping told Yahoo! Sports. "I was a lot younger then. I had a lot of adrenaline flowing through my body and I felt a lot of personal animosity. In those kinds of situations, you don't always look at things with a level head and with a clear perspective."
With the benefit of the time, Bisping admits he can understand why so many were outraged when the decision went in his favor instead of for Hamill.
Now, fan outrage over what is perceived to be bad scoring is commonplace in the UFC. But the Bisping-Hamill fight marked the first time on a large scale that fans were united that the wrong guy got the win.
Even the partisan crowd at the O2 lustily booed the call. UFC president Dana White was pilloried, as if he had anything to do with the judges' scores (he doesn't).
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But in a strange way, the weird outcome boosted the fortunes of both fighters. It cemented Bisping as the UFC's resident heel. In an individual sport like fighting, where the personalities of the fighters are a big factor in ticket and pay-per-view sales, it's far better to be hated than ignored.
Bisping's made a good living off people who bought tickets and pay-per-views hoping to see him get beaten up.
He struggled with his bad-boy reputation at first, but finally embraced it after realizing he couldn't convince the audience otherwise. He meets Stann on Sept. 22 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto in an important fight that will push him a step closer to a title shot with a win.
Conversely, the loss may have actually helped Hamill. He bursted onto the scene during Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter, which Bisping won. Hamill was shaping up as Bisping's biggest threat on the show, but he was injured and had to pull out.
As a result, the fan base somewhat lost touch with him.
After the Bisping fight, which was broadcast live before a large audience on Spike, he reconnected with the fan base. He was no longer simply a novelty, the deaf fighter who once appeared on The Ultimate Fighter. He became a symbolic figure in the rally against what was perceived to be poor MMA judging.
"In my opinion, even though it didn't seem that way at the time, I think it's the best thing that ever happened to Matt," said Duff Holmes, Hamill's manager/trainer. "People would approach us and said, 'I can't believe it; you were completely robbed. You killed Bisping.' It catapulted Matt into the upper echelon of fighters.
"There are a lot of guys stuck in the middle of the pack and not many people notice them. But that fight pushed Matt into the limelight and I think it made him a marketable star."
[Related: Michael Bisping: No gameplan can save Brian Stann from me]
Hamill would go on to a solid career, though he retired after losing back-to-back fights, to Bisping’s friend Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 130 and then to Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 133.
But in August, Hamill got the itch to fight again and announced he would return against Roger Hollett. That put him on the same card as Bisping. He'd take a fight with Bisping if it were offered, but it's not his motivation in the second part of his career, which he calls Hammer 2.0.
"I don't really think of Bisping too much," Hamill said. "I just want to do things right [in my comeback]. That was an important fight for me at the time, but that was five years ago and we're both different now than we were."
Hamill was offered a rematch with Bisping at UFC 78, but he was injured and couldn't accept it. Bisping then fought Rashad Evans in the main event of that show, losing a hotly disputed decision.
Bisping has gone on to become one of the UFC's most recognizable fighters. He has no desire, though, to see Hamill in the ring again despite the opportunity it would present for him to prove that his 2007 win was legitimate.
"He's a hell of a fighter and he's had some big fights and I'm happy for him," Bisping said. "But I'm beyond that now. In this sport, it's like there are controversial decisions every card. You can't give rematches every time one happens, because then the divisions wouldn't move along.
"Matt retired and I moved on. We're at different places now. It would be nice to see him get a win and I wish him well, but fighting him again does nothing for my career, so I have no interest in it."
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