On Jan. 28, 2012, Michael Bisping came within five minutes of a UFC title shot.
Bisping (24-6) fought Chael Sonnen that night in a No. 1 middleweight contender bout in Chicago. After two rounds, two of the three judges had the fight even, 19-19. A decisive round for Bisping would have netted a coveted shot at Anderson Silva.
It didn’t happen. Sonnen (28-14-1) set a relentless pace, out-grappled Bisping in the final round and won the decision. He fought Silva six months later; in his second UFC title fight appearance. He eventually fought for a UFC belt three times.
Bisping, 35, had done about everything there is to do in the UFC. He’s fought in the Octagon 20 times and participated on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series as both a contestant (once) and a coach (twice). He’s fought in five different countries.
He has never fought for a UFC title, however. Only three fighters in UFC history have made more appearances than Bisping and never fought for a title. The closest he has ever come to earning a shot was unquestionably that third round in Chicago in 2012.
Two and a half years later, Sonnen, 37, retired from mixed martial arts on the heels of testing positive for five banned substances in the span of two weeks. It opened a world of questions regarding his previous use of testosterone-replacement-therapy and drug use in general. Sonnen was on TRT when he fought Bisping in 2012.
Was Sonnen on performance-enhancing drugs when he fought Bisping? Were his testosterone levels monitored while he was on TRT for that fight? What affect did it have on the outcome? One would think Bisping might go crazy thinking about it.
And it doesn’t end there. Bisping has lost six fights in the UFC. Three of those came against fighters who later had issues when the Nevada State Athletic Commission, as the result of random, unannounced drug testing.
Wanderlei Silva, whom Bisping lost to in February 2010, ran from a sample collector on May 24. Vitor Belfort, who knocked out Bisping in January 2013, submitted a test that showed high levels of testosterone in his blood as part of a license application earlier this year.
In Bisping’s mind, there is no question all three played outside the rules during the course of their careers. Bisping swears he’s never taken a banned substance.
Does that bother him? He’s fought in the UFC since 2006. Never reached a title. Did drug use in the sport prevent him from that?
“It doesn’t keep me up at night,” Bisping said. “Obviously, it’s disappointing. I was in No. 1 contender matchups several times and they didn’t go my way. I fought some of the most prolific drug users in the sport. Would things have been different had they not been on whatever they were on? Who knows? You can’t live your life like that.
“Everybody knows Vitor is the most prolific drug cheat in history. Chael, I don’t like to kick a man while he’s down, but he had five banned substances in his system. It wasn’t a surprise. Anybody that was on TRT used it to try and cheat the system.”
Bisping’s window to fight for a UFC title is closing. He is coming off a decision loss to Tim Kennedy in April, during which he looked flat and ultimately uncompetitive.
He is scheduled to fight Cung Le at a UFC Fight Night event on Aug. 23 in Macau. His goal is still the UFC title, but if it doesn’t happen, Bisping says hopefully he’ll be remembered for something else. After watching some of his best opponents fall under drug suspicion, Bisping is simply proud of the fact he’s not with them.
“If I never get to fight for a title, it will be an absolutely crying shame,” Bisping said. “But I want my legacy to be pretty simple. I worked my ass off and did it the old fashioned way. I’ve never taken a steroid in my life.
“You work your ass off and try to achieve what you can.”