TORONTO - Michael Bisping is used to being the villain. The English middleweight might as well have worn a black hat to the cage for his fights.
But now living in California, the 33-year-old Bisping seems to be enjoying an image makeover of sorts. He's not exactly cage-fighting's answer to Mother Teresa these days but he seems to have more fans than before.
"I don't know what it is, but I'm certainly getting a lot more love on Twitter these days," Bisping told The Canadian Press.
Some of the Bisping-related tweets used to be R-rated, but times have changed.
"Now every day there's at least five, 10 tweets of people saying 'I used to absolutely hate you but now I'm actually a fan. Good luck in Canada etcetera etcetera.' I get a lot of that type of thing these days."
The Twitter-sphere does show examples of Bisping backers.
"Good luck this weekend mate, weird to see so many positive comments from americans about you these days haha," offered one Bisping believer.
"Good luck on ufc 152 Count!" said another. "Always been a fan of u, ur not just a fighter but also a great good example to all dads out there!"
Odds are Bisping won't be the target of the boo-birds at UFC 152 in Toronto this weekend. That may be reserved for light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones, who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently (DUI and dispute with UFC boss Dana White over his opponent).
Jones takes on Brazilian Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre while Bisping (23-4) meets (All-American) Brian Stann (12-4) in a fight that has 185-pound title implications.
While Bisping has been short on self-editing in the past, he rarely fails to charm in person. And he's not the type to say one thing in private and another in public.
"I know I've made my fair share of mistakes over the years. I'm not perfect," said Bisping, who used to work on a furniture assembly line. "But I'm certainly not fake either and I think some people respect that ... With me, what you see if what you get."
North American fans have got to see more of him, thanks to his proximity to Los Angeles and his ease in front of the camera.
In the past, Bisping has fought best when he was angry with his opponent. That has made for plenty of trash-talk.
He made Jorge (El Conquistador) Rivera pay for comments he thought were critical of his family. And he punished Jason (Mayhem) Miller after their stint as rival coaches on "The Ultimate Fighter."
Bisping admits it's hard to work up a hate for a war hero like Stann, whose day job is finding jobs for wounded veterans.
"He seems like a pretty decent guy, unfortunately" said Bisping, who did the high-in-the-sky CN Tower walk with the decorated ex-marine as part of the pre-fight publicity.
"There's not much meat on the bone in terms of trash-talk," he added. "He's a nice guy."
Still, old habits die hard and Bisping couldn't resist a few shots at Stann in a recent blog for Yahoo! Sports.
"A stupid mistake aside, I mince Brian Stann's arse like burger meat nine times out of 10," he wrote.
"Stann has talked big about how he's going to put me to sleep. Well, that's a fact. I can't avoid it. None of us can. Brian is going to tell some more deathly boring old war stories at the pre-fight press conference, and we are all going to be in for a snooze," the Brit added.
And after an appearance on "The Jim Rome show," Bisping was quoted by the TV host on Twitter as saying middleweight Alan (The Talent) Belcher — famous for his prominent Johnny Cash ink —"has the worst tattoo this side of that fat pervert in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.'"
Back in the cage, a win over Stann and Bisping can move to the top of the middleweight contenders' ladder, joining the likes of Chris Weidman.
The problem is champion Anderson Silva's dance card is filling up already.
Silva, stepping in to help fill a main event void at UFC 153, is moving up to light-heavyweight (205 pounds) to fight Stephan Bonnar on Oct. 13 in Rio de Janeiro.
For the record, Bisping has been quoted saying Silva will "decapitate" Bonnar.
After that, there's talk that Silva will meet welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at a catchweight of 180 pounds, providing that GSP can dispose of interim title-holder Carlos Condit first.
"(UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva said if I beat Brian Stann in a dominant fashion then that sets me up for a title shot," said Bisping. "But with all the talk of GSP and Anderson Silva ... I don't think it's likely I'll be the next in line."
First up for the Brit is the hard-punching Stann, however.
The American has won four of his last five, with the only loss coming at the hands of Chael Sonnen two fights ago. Stann, 31, knocked out Alessio Sakara in April.
Bisping has also won four of his last five, dropping a decision to Sonnen last timer out on a televised card in January.
While not the hardest puncher in MMA, Bisping is a good technical striker with a good all-round game who rarely comes into the cage with a poor game plan.
He has worked hard on shoring up his wrestling and it shows.
"Now I'm happy with where my wrestling is and I can dictate where the fight takes place. I'm good at defending and I can also take people down as well."
Bisping took Sonnen, a decorated wrestler, down in the third round and stopped three of Sonnen's seven attempts.
"Who knows. Brian Stann, I'm going to go out there and bang with him but if the opportunity for a takedown's there, I certainly will take him down and punish him on the floor as well."
Bisping won Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter" and served as coach on Seasons 9 and 14 of the reality TV show. In particular, Season 9 — a U.S. versus United Kingdom format — did little for Bisping's image on this side of the Atlantic.
Never a wall flower, Bisping acknowledges he "said and did a few things maybe when I was younger'" than he shouldn't have.
Loose lips aside, Bisping has steadily built up his fight resume. His UFC record is 12-4 with the losses coming to Sonnen, Wanderlei (The Axe Murderer) Silva, Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans.
Sonnen, Silva and Evans were all decisions. Henderson stopped Bisping in the second round with a knockout as brutal as they come
"I personally believe I've only lost one fight and that was to Dan Henderson," Bisping said. "The others have always been debatable decisions that judges felt I lost on the night. I've never had my ass kicked, I've never been completely smashed for three rounds.
"Dan Henderson caught me with a good shot and put me to sleep. Fair play. Other than that, I've got a near perfect record in the UFC after six years in the organization.
"So yeah, I feel I deserve a shot. I've got to get past Brian Stann first, though. I've got my hand full with that. He's no pushover but if I do that job, then yeah, I think I deserve a shot pretty soon."
The Brit reckons the time is right.
"I'm in my prime. I don't know if I'm going to continue getting better but right now I'm certainly the best mixed martial artist that I've ever been in my life, without a shadow of a doubt — technically, athletically and mentally as well."
Bisping was due to fight at UFC 149 in Calgary but was sidelined by a knee and shoulder injury.