If middleweight Michael Bisping walked down the street and saw a pot, chances are he would stop and give it a stir. He just can’t resist.
The big-mouthed — albeit personable — Brit has been no different in the buildup to his fight Saturday with Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort, taking verbal potshots at the veteran Brazilian.
“I always try to make it as interesting as possible,” Bisping said dryly.
“He’s a very very nice guy. He’s a very classy guy,” he added of Belfort. “So there’s no real ill-will towards him. But you know what I’m like, I’ll take a few stabs in the press here and there if I can, try to play a little psychological warfare, try to put doubt in his mind.
“And also make it fun for the people that are thinking about watching the fight. That always makes it more interesting if it’s a little heated. And it certainly helps me.”
On Thursday, Bisping (24-4) managed to get Belfort’s blood boiling when the two posed for photographs after a news conference. Bisping knocked Belfort’s hand away when he deemed it had got too close to his face.
Belfort (21-10) put his hand back and started shouting at Bisping after the two were separated.
It was a world away from last September when both men were fighting in Toronto at UFC 152, swapping stories about their kids on the bus.
The stakes are high Saturday. A Bisping win on the televised UFC card in Sao Paulo could mean a 185-pound title shot against Brazilian star Anderson Silva.
“For me Vitor is the hardest fight outside of Anderson in the middleweight division,” said Bisping. “I know it’s a dangerous fight, especially fighting him in Brazil. And I’ve trained accordingly. Everything’s gone fantastic.
“Initially a few people said to me: ‘(He) seems like a strange opponent. Why did you take that fight? That’s very dangerous considering how close to a title shot you are.’
“For me the answer was simple. If I can’t beat Vitor, then I don’t deserve to fight for the title anyway. This a big fight. And if I win this, I think it clearly cements me as the No. 2 middleweight in the world and the No. 1 contender.”
Of course, Bisping has had his chance before at booking a title shot, only to lose to Dan Henderson (via spectacular KO at UFC 100 in July 2009) and Chael Sonnen (by decision in January 2012).
There were no fireworks at Friday’s weigh-in, when Belfort showed off a mohawk hairstyle. While the Brazilian kept his distance when the two fighters posed, words were exchanged.
Bisping weighed in at 186 pounds, one more than Belfort.
There are few contenders out there at 185 pounds. Alan (The Talent) Belcher and Tim (The Barbarian) Boetsch were beaten last time out. Chris (All-American) Weidman is injured and probably still has some dues to pay.
“I’ve been around long enough now and I think I deserve it,” said Bisping.
The 33-year-old Brit points derisively to some who have already faced Silva, naming Canadian Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia.
“I’m certainly a lot more deserving than those guys,” he said. “And Vitor is a legit opponent, an all-time legend and one of the best. So if I beat him, I think I’m clearly the No. 1 contender.”
Bisping points out that Belfort, in the buildup to this fight, called him a “hooligan.”
He responded by saying the Brazilian has “the body of a lion, but the heart of a chicken.”
In typical Bisping fashion, the insult came out of a joint public appearance in Brazil to promote the fight. It was a hot day and Belfort arrived in shorts. Bisping recalls marvelling at Belfort’s impressive arms, then noticing the muscular torso was balanced on chicken-like legs.
The Bisping brain went into overdrive. Insults followed.
Bisping’s rationale is that Belfort is a world-beater when the fight is going his way. But when he realizes his opponent isn’t going anywhere, the Brazilian “starts to crumble mentally and looks for a way out.”
The 35-year-old Belfort, 3-2 in his latest stint in the UFC, is coming off a fourth-round submission loss to light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones in Toronto.
“Listen, he threw up an armbar in the first round. Other than that he didn’t really do much, he was a walking punching bag,” Bisping said dismissively.
Bisping also accuses Belfort of giving up against Jones.
“He’s a black belt (in Brazilian jiu-jitsu) and he’s been around a long long time. And he put his arm in a position where he knew he was going to get submitted. He wanted out of that fight.”
Bispng also mused about how Belfort manages to bulk up when he fights at light-heavyweight.
Belfort’s other recent loss came via a devastating front kick from Silva at UFC 126.
The Brazilian is still known for coming out hard.
Belfort was just 19 when he won the UFC 12 heavyweight tournament in 1997, needing just two minutes to finish two fights in one night.
In 2004, he won the light-heavyweight champion in 49 seconds over Randy (The Natural) Couture due to a cut at UFC 46. Couture won the title back later that year.
Sonnen, no stranger to trash-talking himself, fought Silva twice but calls his bout with Bisping “the hardest fight I’ve ever had.”
And he says the Bisping-Belfort contest is easy to handicap. If Bisping can survive the first five minutes, he will win.
“He’s going to come at me hard and fast in the first round and he’s going to see that I’m still there, he’s going to realize I’m a much harder opponent than he fought previously.
“He’s going to start to dwindle. He’s going to start to fade and he’s going to fold under the pressure once he sees I’m still there. ... I predict late third, fourth round, I’ll take him out by TKO.”
Bisping beat Brian Stann last time out in Toronto, winning a convincing decision.
He has won 12 of his other 14 UFC fights, losing a disputed decision to Wanderlei (The Axe Murderer) Silva in 2010 and a split decision as a light-heavyweight to Rashad Evans in 2007.
Bisping has worked hard on his craft since entering the UFC in 2006 via winning Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The former kickboxer has proved that Brits can wrestle and has a good all-round game.
Bisping’s fitness is always top-notch. He is a mobile fighter who is hard to catch. He is not known for knockout power but can deliver plenty of punches.
According to FightMetric, Bisping lands 4.57 significant strikes per minute. Belfort, a hard-hitting southpaw, lands 1.35.
“I’m hungrier than I’ve every been. I’m certainly training just as hard as I ever used to when I was younger,” Bisping said. “My skill set’s getting better and better all the time, especially since I moved out to California and got a new bunch of coaches and new training partners. I’m learning a lot of things.