Michael Bisping was forced to draw on all his strength, tenacity and courage to pick himself off the floor to beat Anderson Silva and prove to UFC president Dana White that he’s more than deserving of a title shot.
The Count, who celebrated his 37th birthday just hours after out-pointing the legendary Brazilian, was decked by a savage knee from Silva at the end of round three prompting wild celebrations from the jiu-jitsu specialist.
Silva dropped to his knees in the centre of the Octagon, signalling what he believed was victory with prayer, before vaulting on to the walls of the cage to salute just short of 17,000 fans housed within the O2 Arena in London.
However, Bisping found the heart and endurance to recover to retain his unbeaten record on UK shores which stretches to eight contests under the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s umbrella.
Bisping, who was gesturing to referee Herb Dean that he’d lost his mouth piece in action prior to that crippling knock down, said: “It’s about heart, we’re all cut from a certain cloth, it takes a certain mindset to do this. It’s about how much you want it and I’ve always wanted this fight. It was everything to me. That’s what got me through those moments.
“He had a big moment in round three after I dropped my mouthpiece. Herb Dean gets called the best referee in the business but I don’t know. I know there needs to be a break in the action to pick up my mouth piece. There was no action.
“But it’s my fault. I’m too experienced to be making those mistakes and Anderson capitalised on that mistake. Well done to him for that.
“Of course I wanted to get back in there. While there’s breath in my body I will always continue trying to fight. I felt fine but the round stopped. I wasn’t sure what had happened.
“I said ‘please don’t tell me this is over’. I was fine. Of course when you’ve just taken a couple of knees and elbows your faculties aren’t exactly the sharpest at that moment in time but fortunately it wasn’t the end and I got the decision.”
Bisping’s quest for a shot at the middleweight strap began almost a decade ago but both Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen have stepped in his way since then.
On the other hand, Silva donned the gold belt for a record-breaking 2,457 days where he made a total of 10 defences before losing out to Chris Weidman in 2013.
The Spider’s reign spread arachnophobic fear throughout the 185lb division with many an opponent debilitated by the web he weaved.
However, Bisping showed no fear. After a tentative start to the contest, remedied by an explosive final 10 seconds, the Clitheroe fighter sent Silva sprawling with a solid right hook before applying the pressure with a forceful ground-and-pound.
Bisping was awarded the second stanza and was the busier of the pair in the third five-minute spell until the 40-year-old’s devastating left knee crushed his jaw. Among all the commotion and hysteria many failed to hear the buzzer and presumed the contest had reached its conclusion.
A bloodied Bisping, though, cut beneath his left eye and across the bridge of his nose, eventually rose from his stool to crank up the heat again, with 80 attempted strikes seemingly negating the threat of Silva.
One of those, a heavy right hand, rocked Silva but it was the former champion who sparked a rallying finish to the penultimate round switching to the offensive with a thunderous uppercut and another crushing knee.
In the fifth and final round the necessary fervour required from Silva to try and force the stoppage was only apparent intermittently.
From an uncompromising position against the cage the Brazilian knocked Bisping off-balance when snapping out an expertly executed front kick to the face.
A knee and a bruising right would follow later in the round but Bisping’s desire saw him through to a famous victory, which he took 48-47, pushing him in to contention for a title tilt with either Luke Rockhold or Weidman who meet in the summer.