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Bisping feels mental edge over Rockhold

11/3/2014

Michael Bisping swears he doesn't know why he's involved in so many personal feuds.

Except this latest one with Luke Rockhold. This one, Bisping says, is probably his fault.

It's been well publicized by now that Bisping (25-6) rubbed Rockhold the wrong way when he spoke about a sparring session between the two in California years ago. At the time, Rockhold (12-2) was the Strikeforce middleweight champion. When asked to describe the closed-door session, Bisping joked he was the "unofficial" Strikeforce titleholder.

The feud has grown from there and encompassed everything from a potential side bet (sadly, no final terms were reached) and an incident at a coffee shop in Macau, where Bisping says Rockhold confronted him and his father.

The two will finally square off this weekend in Sydney. The UFC Fight Night bout takes place on Saturday locally, but airs on UFC's Internet subscription service Fight Pass on Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

Bisping, 35, says he enjoys the back and forth that often goes on prior to his fights -- but promises what you see is what you get. The Brit says he's never "faked" a rivalry, so to speak, in order to sell a fight.

"They've all been real," Bisping told ESPN.com. "Maybe I rub people the wrong way. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact I'm fighting somebody and that's just my mindset. This isn't one-on-one basketball. We're fighting. They say they are better than me and I take offense to that. In this respect, Luke is really the one going off. He said he actually hates me with a passion."

In addition to being real, Bisping says the heat between him and Rockhold could very well be something that works to his advantage.

Bisping has performed at a high level of consistency during his eight-year UFC career, but admits that twice in the past, his prefight feelings might have impacted him in a negative way.

In July 2009, Bisping suffered a second-round knockout loss to Dan Henderson, whom he had just coached against on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series. While he's accepted responsibility for the loss numerous times since, he has also pointed to a severely overdone training camp, which had him fatigued heading into the bout.

In February 2011, an emotional Bisping defeated Jorge Rivera via TKO, but not before he faced potential disqualification for an illegal knee in the first round. Rivera had gotten under Bisping's skin before the fight with a series of mocking Internet videos.

Bisping says he's learned from those experiences, whereas Rockhold, perhaps, has not.

"I'm way too long in the tooth to make those kinds of mistakes anymore," Bisping said. "I'm going to go in nice and calm and put a beating on this guy. I'm not going to go out wild, which he may do. Whenever I'm in the same room as him, you can see him fighting the urge to get up and punch me. On the flip side, I'm looking at him with a big smile on my face."

Rockhold, 30, has stated emotions won't be an issue.

The former Strikeforce champ made that mistake in his UFC debut against Vitor Belfort. Rockhold blasted Belfort's use of testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) at the time and went on to lose the May 2013 fight via knockout in the first round.

"It's different in a lot of ways," said Rockhold, on his current rivalry with Bisping. "I'm just being a lot more confident in myself and letting things be. Letting things go.

"If you see me in the cage [against Belfort], I was nervous about his speed, striking -- just emotionally invested. I was staring at him, mean-mugging him the whole time. It was a crazy experience being in Brazil, fighting him, psyching myself up in the wrong way. My eyes were pure red. I was coming after him like crazy, man."

If Bisping does have any sort of mental advantage over Rockhold as he suggests, he will need to maximize it. Oddsmakers have Rockhold listed as a more than 4-1 favorite in the 185-pound bout.

Speaking about the fight itself, Bisping admits Rockhold has no glaring weaknesses. A 21-fight veteran of the UFC (who has never once competed for a title), Bisping says he's completely at ease with what he'll face in Sydney, however, and swears that rivalry or not, he's in the best place he's ever been mentally.

"In the past, when I fought big names, I was caught in the moment a bit," Bisping said. "For all the times I've fought in the UFC, except for my last fight, I've never fought to the best of my ability. It just matters so much to me, I get so worked up. I would take these small things and build them up in my mind.

"I truly believe I'm going to win this fight. I think it will play out on the feet and I think he'll look for takedowns. He probably say my fight with Tim Kennedy and thinks he can exploit a weakness there. He'll find out there is no weakness and I think I'll be too fast and beat him to the punch every time."