NEW YORK – Michael Bisping's telephone wasn't ringing. Reporters weren't calling to talk to him. He wasn't being sought to make personal appearances.
He was preparing for a fight of some significance and it was as if he were an anonymous guy preparing for his pro debut.
It's what happens when you're in Bisping's lot, when you win just about every fight except those that matter the most.
He'll meet Alan Belcher on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 159 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., a critical bout for him in order to keep his title hopes alive.
Bisping is 23-5, but he's known more for his big losses rather than any of his significant wins.
"That's a pattern and a storyline, if you will, and of course I don't want that to be the story of my career," Bisping said during a media scrum at Madison Square Garden.
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Bisping won "The Ultimate Fighter 3" in 2006 and quickly shot up the ranks in the light heavyweight division. In 2007, in the very building where he'll meet Belcher on Saturday, he met another fast-rising light heavyweight, Rashad Evans.
That bout came at UFC 78 and marked the first time he'd headlined a pay-per-view card. Evans won the bout via split decision and two fights later was the light heavyweight champion.
Bisping dropped to middleweight, won three fights in a row and met Dan Henderson at UFC 100 with a title shot against champion Anderson Silva hanging in the balance.
In one of the most famous knockouts in UFC history , Henderson laid out Bisping in the second round.
He's been taunted mercilessly about that loss. Many fans use a GIF of the knockout as their avatar on various MMA forums, and Bisping has taken it in stride, laughing it off.
But in a bid to promote their middleweight fight, Belcher crossed the line, Bisping felt, when he, too, laughed at the knockout.
"The one thing that really upset me is that he did a video and on one of those videos, he superimposed himself onto this image of Dan Henderson knocking me out," Bisping said. "He's there and he's pointing and he's laughing. He's doubling up in enjoyment, laughing his head off at a fighter getting knocked out.
"Me myself, I don't take pleasure in seeing a fellow fighter get knocked out. It happens. Now, if he fought somebody of the caliber I fought, it would have happened to him, believe you me. But he's been fighting guys the caliber of [Yoshihiro] Akiyama and Jason Day. He hasn't been fighting the Vitor Belforts and Dan Hendersons. That's the one thing that really pissed me off. It was disrespectful to myself and disrespectful to the sport. It's a cruel sport. People get knocked out. You don't laugh at that."
Bisping said he still believes, despite the heartbreaking defeats, that he's still going to be able to get back to the top and win that important bout.
He moved to California from his native England to take advantage of better coaching in the United States, he said. He made a number of changes to his team in order to push him to the next level.
Part of his interest is in his overall fitness level. In the past, he allowed himself to balloon up after a fight, and the first part of his next camp would be spent working to get weight off.
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But after getting knocked out in his last bout by Belfort, Bisping paid attention to his weight and didn't allow himself to put on weight for no reason. As a result, he's been able to eat well during camp and feels it will make a significant difference in his overall fitness level.
It's all part of a strategy to turn things around so that the next time he gets one of those major fights, he can come out on top.
Bisping won't stop believing that someday he'll prove all of his critics wrong and win a world title.
"I'm 34 and I still have a lot of time [left in the sport]," he said. "My body feels good. I still have a long, long career left in me and I'm still improving. Since I've moved to California, I've made a lot of improvements. I'm still hungry; I'm still very, very hungry. Hopefully, [my career] won't be defined [by those losses]."
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