Michael Bisping’s career is beginning to feel like a series of déjà vu experiences.

“The Count” wins a fight or two and looks impressive doing it, then runs into a top contender at 185 pounds and fails to get the job done. Whether it was getting knocked unconscious by Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort or barely losing out on a decision against Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen, Bisping has seen high-profile wins slip through his grasp time and time again.

All four of those fighters were the only thing standing between Bisping and a middleweight title fight at some point over the last five years, and each time Bisping fell just short of reaching his goal. For both “The Count” and his fans, the road hasn’t just been frustrating, it’s been heartbreaking.

Bisping hasn’t exactly made a lot of American fans over the course of his UFC run, but even some of his haters seemed a bit depressed when the Brit went down following a Belfort head kick last January. Even though he’s never quite been able to reach the highest level of the UFC, Bisping has been one of the most consistent fighters on the roster for close to a decade now. He shows up, talks some trash and usually wins. It may not be the most fan-friendly formula, especially in cases like the Henderson fight where the Las Vegas crowd was practically calling for Bisping’s head, but over the years a lot of fans have started to respect the way that Bisping continuously battles back.

Now in the midst of his fifth climb back up the middleweight ladder, it’s becoming unclear how much longer Bisping can keep on trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Each time “The Count” gets knocked down, the faith the MMA community has in him drops.

Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me six or seven times and I have some serious problems. Bisping’s fooled the fans often enough that he might even manage to be the underdog against Bob Sapp if there were a title shot on the line. It’s made terms like gatekeeper consistent with his name, and the phrase “always a bridesmaid” has been thrown around often in regards to “The Count’s” UFC career.

Oddly enough, the recent loss of faith in Bisping’s championship potential has come during what’s probably been the most impressive stretch of his UFC run. Sure, Bisping’s 3-2 mark over his last five fights may not look great on paper, but he’s actually performed very well against some quality competition.

“The Count” absolutely destroyed Jason “Mayhem” Miller to end their feud stemming from The Ultimate Fighter 14, and he followed it up by going toe to toe with Sonnen in a huge fight for a No. 1 contender spot. Sonnen may have gotten the nod, but plenty of people felt the decision should have gone Bisping’s way, and he carried that momentum into a three-round beating for Brian Stann at UFC 152 a few months later. The knockout loss to Belfort came shortly after, but Bisping was actually performing reasonably well before he was flattened by “The Phenom’s” leg. And like he always seems to do, Bisping bounced back in a big way, dominating Alan Belcher for three rounds before an accidental eye poke forced a slightly early end to the fight and a technical decision victory for the Brit.

Beating down Belcher was one of the more impressive wins in Bisping’s nearly 20 fights inside the Octagon.

“[I] dominated it from start to finish,” Bisping told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview last month. “The guy didn’t land a punch, you know, and I proved I was one of the best middleweights in the world.”

Whether or not Bisping can capitalize on his latest win and work towards a title opportunity remains to be seen, but his road back to the cage has been on hold recently as he recovered from an eye injury. Now that he’s on track, though, “The Count” has made it clear that his quest to return to middleweight contention is well underway.

“Well, I want to come back in April, against probably Tim Kennedy, who’s been talking a lot, so I’m gonna have to shut him up,” Bisping revealed. “Fight him, get back in there and continue my winning streak and hopefully fight for a title at the end of the year.”

Recent reports suggest that the UFC is targeting the TUF Nations finale event and a headlining spot for Bisping and Kennedy.

Obviously, earning a title shot by the end of 2014 is a bit ambitious for Bisping, but the fighter has never been shy to voice his opinion about his position in the 185-pound division. However, the path to a title shot isn’t quite as clear for Bisping as it has been in years past. While “The Count” has always been seemingly just a fight or two away from getting a chance at UFC gold, the middleweight division has completely flipped on its head in the year that Bisping has been out of action.

Anderson Silva lost his title to Chris Weidman. Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi decided to cut 20 pounds and go after the middleweight belt. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Luke Rockhold came over from Strikeforce and started making waves. This is a very different division than the one Bisping last competed in, and he’s going to have his work cut out for him to stand out in the suddenly stacked middleweight top 10.

If Bisping’s rumored fight with Kennedy does go down in April, he’s likely going to be in the same lose-lose situation that he normally finds himself in on his way up the middleweight ladder. If he wins, he was expected to win and will have to prove himself against another top contender before getting a championship bid. If he loses, it’s back to the end of the line, and this time there may not be enough left in “The Count” to claw his way back to the top.

Even though Bisping can’t afford to look past Kennedy, he has to realize that a win over the American is only going to lead him into another title eliminator, a fight that he’s yet to win in the UFC. That fight is going to be the true test for the Brit in the eyes of fans, and it’s the one that will likely decide whether or not Bisping ever earns a crack at UFC gold. If he pulls it off, he’ll finally get the title shot he’s been pining for his entire UFC career. If not, he’ll fall back down the ladder and start the climb again. Déjà vu.

All quotes obtained firsthand by The MMA Corner’s Aline Bak

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.