This season of The Ultimate Fighter may be the most memorable yet in terms of guest appearances. From this week's appearances by Chuck Liddell and Jon Fitch, to Olympic wrestling silver medalist Gia Sissaouri, and of course, boxing legend Mike Tyson, the 14 lightweights in the house have gotten some nice surprises.
Michael Bisping has not appeared on TUF this season, but it's not hard to see his fingerprints on the show's twelfth season.
The TUF 3 winner and TUF 9 coach was mentioned as an inspiration by TUF hopeful Amir Khillah, who wanted to help grow the sport of mixed martial arts in the Middle East the way Bisping has in the UK. Those dreams were dashed by Cody McKenzie, but Bisping's influence has still been felt in the form of Aaron Wilkinson, a Bisping teammate who nearly knocked off Team GSP top pick Michael Johnson and remains a front-runner for the wild card spot.
"I'm over the moon to see Aaron on that," Bisping said. "Aaron's a great guy, and he's been a great teammate at the Wolfslair a long time now. So I'm happy to see him, you know, getting some success. And Aaron's a young guy with a lot of potential and definitely the potential to have a great career."
Bisping is most focused on his own career, and lately, that means his fight with Yoshihiro Akiyama on Saturday at UFC 120, which airs for free in the U.S. on Spike at 8PM/7c. With a win against the decorated judoka, Bisping hopes to gather momentum for a run at the UFC Middleweight Championship.
"I feel I've got it in me to run for the title," Bisping said. "I'm well rounded, and I'm one of the better athletes in there. So, you know, I do believe, you know, I mean, obviously, I've got to put up or shut up. I've got to walk the walk. It's all well and good me sitting here talking about it, you know. People don't want to hear that; they want to see results. And that's what I plan to deliver on October 16th."
In terms of common opponents, Bisping would appear to have the edge. He defeated TUF 1 alum Chris Leben at UFC 89, while the Crippler logged one of the year's biggest wins when he beat Akiyama in the Fight of the Night at UFC 116, fighting on just two weeks notice after beating Aaron Simpson at the TUF 11 season finale. Bisping, however, isn't putting any stock in "fight math".
"I think it'd be pretty foolish to look at that and to automatically assume that I could beat him, just because Chris Leben beat him," Bisping said. You know, in, you know, MMA, anything can happen on the mat. But, that said, I've looked at Akiyama, I've looked at his style, I look at the way he fights, and I'm positive I can beat him."
There may be some difference in Akiyama's style when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday, however. In preparing for the fight with Bisping, Akiyama has spent time in New Mexico training with Greg Jackson. Jackson, who's been seen on this season of The Ultimate Fighter lending a hand to Georges St-Pierre, coached Rashad Evans to a win over Bisping at UFC 78, and has added a few new wrinkles to Akiyama's game.
"[I] was able to learn the intricate skills of the takedowns," Akiyama said through his translator, "as well as better striking for MMA. And, most of all, [I] was able to learn how to deliver a good three rounds of fight in the cage."
Bisping, however, isn't concerned about where Akiyama has been lately.
"In terms of preparation, it doesn't change anything," Bisping said. "With respect, I couldn't care less who he trains with. He can train with anyone. What I'm focusing on these days is what I do, focusing on my training. And he can worry about what I'm bringing to the table. My training's going fantastic. I feel in great shape. I've improved all my areas. Regardless of who he's training with, I think I'll be too much for him."
Will Bisping, in fact, be too much for Akiyama? Leave your thoughts below, and tune in to Spike to see how it all plays out, as Spike presents UFC 120: Bisping vs. Akiyama, from the O2 Arena in London, England, Saturday night at 8PM/7c.