SPORTS

England's Michael Bisping says he is ready for Chael Sonnen in Chicago

01/28/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 03/28/2012 05:12 EDT
Love him or hate him, Michael Bisping has remained ever relevant in his UFC career.

And now the brash English middleweight is one win away from a shot at 185-pound champion Anderson Silva.

Bisping got his chance when an injury to Mark (The Filipino Wrecking machine) Munoz left Chael Sonnen needing an opponent for Saturday night's televised UFC on Fox card in Chicago.

Bisping (23-3) was shifted from his scheduled bout with Brazilian Demian Maia to face Sonnen (27-11-1) to determine the No. 1 contender. A date with Silva this summer, likely in Brazil, awaits the winner.

Some bookies have made Sonnen a 5-1 favourite but Bisping says he's not feeling the heat.

"I feel very confident," he said. "People talk about pressure and this and that. I don't feel any pressure. I do this because I want to do it and this is the biggest stage possible on Saturday night.

"And yeah, if I get the job done against Chael, then it's Anderson Silva next and this is what I've been working so hard for all along."

Bisping has won 12 of 15 bouts in the UFC, losing only to marquee fighters Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva. Sonnen will show whether he is ready to take the step up to the next level.

Regardless of the outcome, Bisping's come a long way from 2003 when he was working on a British assembly line making furniture. Having taken martial arts since childhood, he originally looked to boxing.

Quitting his job on Jan. 4, 2004, he started commuting from his home in Clitheroe near Liverpool in northwestern England to spend the week training with an old coach in Nottingham. Money was so tight he sometimes slept in his car, a battered Volvo 440, returning home on the weekends to see his family and make some cash by DJ'ing.

These days, he and his family call southern California home. Bisping, who trains in Huntington Beach, has kept his house in England and says he remains proud to be a Brit.

"But moving out to California was one of the best things I ever did — certainly in terms of training."

Going for a run in the sun on the beach beats a rainy English day.

He's also spent time with a sports psychologist.

"I feel the most relaxed and calm and excited for a fight than I ever have done in a long time," he said.

Bisping went from facing a Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace to one of the most powerful wrestlers in the UFC. While the English fighter has worked diligently on his takedown defence, he knows success against Sonnen will probably come down to one thing.

"Can I keep it on the feet longer than he can keep me on the ground? I think that's the real question here.

"I think I can stop some of his takedowns. I'm under no illusions — he's going to get me down at some point, just like I'm going to hit him in the face at some point."

Sonnen's checkered history includes a positive drug test — he argued unsuccessfully he was undergoing testosterone replacement therapy under a doctor's care.

Sonnen, who doubled as a realtor, also pleaded guilty to a federal money-laundering charge in connection with a mortgage fraud (he was sentenced to two years' probation, fined US$10,000 and forfeited his state real estate licence). The charge prompted him to pull out of a campaign as a Republican for the Oregon state legislature in 2010.

His runaway mouth and outlandish claims have drawn plenty of other attention recently. He has become almost cartoon-like, walking off TV sets, wielding his own championship belt and insisting he is the best fighter in the world.

Sometimes he makes little sense.

"Bisping is a jerk and I'm going to finish him faster than he can devour a Bovril and meat pie," he said this week before adding: " I came to Chicago to do Michael Bisping a lot of physical harm. I don't come here to talk trash because that's not something I do."

Sonnen even resorted to some Ali-like rhyming this week, saying he was the "reflection of perfection."

Said Bisping: "It's entertaining but it's also cringe-worthy at some points. . . . He's started to look like a bit of a fool now."

Bisping also noted how Sonnen says he is done with Silva, but keeps talking about him.

"For me, it seems like he's bloody obsessed with the guy. Well stop talking about him. He's even taking to wearing his (championship) belt. He's entertaining but he's got to be careful that he doesn't cross over to become the court jester of the UFC."

The 34-year-old Sonnen makes more sense inside the cage, where he is a whirling dervish of a wrestler who takes his opponents down and then brutally beats them up.

He did it to Silva for four rounds before the champion pulled out a last-ditch submission.

Outside of England, the 32-year-old Bisping isn't exactly beloved.

His time on "The Ultimate Fighter," including one stint as coach of a U.K. team, have done little to endear him to American fans. Bisping — who won Season 3 of the reality TV show and has twice served as coach — could also use some self-edit help at times.

"He won't let me down on the smack talk, I am positive," Bisping wrote in a Jan. 20 blog for Fox Sports. "'Fail' Sonnen has failed at politics, failed at real estate, failed at being a crook in real estate because he got caught, failed as a middleweight title challenger, so I am sure Fail Sonnen won't want to fail at his true calling in life: smack-talking."

As a fighter, Bisping uses movement and striking to pick away at opponents. He's coming off a December win over a woeful Jason Miller.

Both Bisping and Sonnen weighed in at 185 pounds Friday and stood forehead-to-forehead as they squared off after stepping off the scales. The two shook hands before leaving the stage.

Bisping was roundly booed and reacted by giving the crowd the finger — on each hand.

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