Bisping get his chance to shine, or shrink

For years, UK fight fans have pinned their hopes for an MMA champion on Michael Bisping. Martin McNeil for ESPN.com

After 15 fights and five and a half years in the UFC, it’s strange to think that Michael Bisping might finally answer his critics with a single win this weekend.

Yet, if Bisping overcomes the odds, upsets Chael Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2 on Saturday and becomes the organization’s No. 1 middleweight contender, there will be very little left to say about him aside from: Sorry Mike, we’ve been wrong about you.

In an industry so preoccupied with the concept of respect, it’s hard to think of a UFC veteran who is more routinely disrespected, his accomplishments more often dismissed out of hand than Bisping.

Ever since he brought a 10-0 record across the pond to compete on season three of “The Ultimate Fighter” back in 2006, the Brit has been branded as overrated. Oddly, the 12-3 record he’s put up since winning the UFC’s popular reality show has done little to dispel the notion of him as nothing more than a product of the fight company’s powerful hype machine. Rightly or wrongly, a healthy portion of the viewing public still thinks of Bisping as a mediocre fighter, a guy unfairly held up as a main event talent for the express purpose of spearheading the UFC’s push into the European market.

Much of that, of course, is due to the level of competition he’s faced to this point, which hasn't been stellar. The truth is, a glance at Bisping’s career body of work (he’s 22-3 overall) actually tells us precious little about what kind of talent he might ultimately prove to be.

His dozen UFC wins have come against opposition with a combined Octagon record of 42-48. For all of his experience with the company, he has only defeated three opponents with winning UFC records -- Matt Hamill, Chris Leben and Jorge Rivera -- and their victories account for 29 of the 42 mentioned above.

To be fair, two of his three career losses – decisions to Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva – are also less than definitive. His KO at the hands of Dan Henderson at UFC 100 sticks out as his only real obvious failing, and it's one critics have not let him forget.

Bisping, naturally, vehemently disagrees with any assessment of himself as anything other than a top contender. It’s easy to see his point. As a fighter, all he can do is beat the men UFC matchmakers put in front of him, and so far he’s done an admirable job at it.

Nonetheless, in Sonnen – at least the most recent incarnation of him -- Bisping faces his first real litmus test since that 2009 loss to Hendo. Their fight will be contested on the sport’s newest and biggest stage and the prize is one both have been very vocal about deserving.

It stands to be a pivotal moment in Bisping’s career. If he wants to prove the critics wrong and stake his claim among the upper echelon of 185-pound fighters, well, here's his chance.

If he can't do it, it'll simply confirm what many have thought about him for a long time.

If he can, if he beats Sonnen, a lot of people -- me included -- probably owe the guy an apology.