Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 | 1:46 p.m.
Ever since British mixed martial artist Michael Bisping joined the UFC in 2006, he's claimed he's prepared to be its 185-pound champion.
He did so, not necessarily because he believed it all that much, but because it just seemed like the right thing to do.
"In the past, I've talked about how I was going to be the world champion," said Bisping on a recent teleconference. "If I'm honest, maybe I didn't truly believe it.
"I was just saying it because it was the thing you were supposed to say."
With 12 UFC fights' worth of experience now under his belt, Bisping (19-3) says he's finally in a position to truly believe his time to become the middleweight champion has come.
He'll get a chance to take a step closer to that dream this weekend, when he meets Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-2) in the main event of UFC 120 in London.
The 31-year-old Bisping has had his share of ups and downs during the past 18 months, but a win over Akiyama likely would place him on the fringes of a title shot.
Winner of the second season of the reality series "The Ultimate Fighter," Bisping says that he's happy with the way his career has played out to this point and that the experiences he's had have turned into him a better fighter.
But the time for learning from losses and rebounding from mistakes has come to an end. The time to live up to his potential is now.
"I do believe I've got to put up or shut up," Bisping said. "I feel I've got it in me to run for the title. I've got to walk the walk. It's all well and good me sitting here and talking about it, but people don't want to hear it. They want to see results."
Bisping's upcoming fight will be a dangerous one, as Akiyama should be hungry after coming up short to Chris Leben in his last fight.
Akiyama was scheduled to face Wanderlei Silva at UFC 116 but was given Leben as a late replacement after Silva was injured.
"I didn't feel like I had enough time to prepare for (Leben)," said Akiyama, through an interpreter. "Speaking in percentage, I feel like it affected 80 percent of the way I fought. I fought with the last 20 percent I had in me."
The outcome of this weekend's fight may go a long way into providing a final verdict on Bisping's talents, as he's shown flashes of both potential and disappointment throughout his career.
After working his way up near title contention with seven wins in his first eight UFC fights, a devastating knockout loss to Dan Henderson on the well-lit stage of UFC 100 all but erased him from the picture.
He rebounded with a fairly underwhelming win over Denis Kang at UFC 105 four months later. Despite coming away with a TKO win in front of his hometown crowd in Manchester, England, Bisping said he left the arena after that fight disappointed.
"My last fight in Manchester, I said I was going to be really aggressive and go out with a knockout," Bisping said. "Somehow in the first round I got knocked down and spent most of it on my back. When I went to the corner in between rounds, you can see on the tape I'm apologizing to the crowd because that's not what I said I was going to do."
Bisping went on to lose a unanimous decision to Wanderlei Silva in his next fight, dropping his record to 1-2 in a three-fight stretch.
That loss has done little to lower Bisping's confidence, however, as he considers himself a victim of poor judging in that fight.
By his count, that means he's lost legitimately only once in the UFC middleweight division — the bout against Henderson. His only other setback came via split decision to former champion Rashad Evans.
But while Bisping's claim that he's been one of the most successful 185-pound fighters of the last four years might be correct, it won't mean a thing if he's unable to put it all together now, at a time he considers to be his prime.
The British striker understands this as well as anybody, which is why he's focused on putting together the run of his career.
"Right now, I'm obviously focusing on Akiyama. I'd be a fool not to," Bisping said. "God willing, I beat him and then I just want to fight whoever brings me closer to the title.
"As I said, I feel I'm in my prime now. Whoever the top dog is out there that wants the belt, I want to beat them and then fight for the title."