Michael Bisping portrayed the true character of a champion when overcoming the challenge of UFC stalwart Dan Henderson to stay on top of the world.
The “Count” had to draw on all his reserves and experience to pick himself up from the deck twice to retain his belt and also survived a fifth round take down to secure a unanimous decision victory.
The American, who downed the 37-year-old with a savage blow in their first installment seven years ago, took the first two stanzas at the Manchester Arena when grounding the middleweight king with crippling shots that were executed with his notorious right hand.
However, the ‘H-Bombs’ weren’t quite enough to bring a premature end to Bisping’s reign as the belt-holder hung on and recovered well, acclimatising to negate his opponent’s most threatening weapon.
The Englishman controlled the following two rounds, landing the more clinical strikes, while the final hurdle of a thrilling contest set up a tense conclusion.
Bisping, who has been forced to rebuild his career on a number of occasions when losing eliminators against Henderson and Chael Sonnen, while tumbling back down the pecking order with defeats to Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold, took the verdict on a pair of 48-47 scores and a 49-46.
The triumph, his fifth in succession, saw the Clitheroe fighter take his tally to 20 under the UFC umbrella, the most in the organisation’s history having eclipsed Georges St-Pierre’s record.
“Of course, Dan Henderson hits hard and he opened up a couple of big cuts on my face,” Bisping said.
“But I feel completely fine, I remember everything about the fight.
“The crowd were amazing. I could hear the energy from the fans throughout the entire event. I want to thank them all for showing so much energy, it was incredible. I felt that.
“Big respect to Dan Henderson. He’s a legend of the sport and I want to say well done to him. It’s amazing what he’s achieved in this sport and to be able to fight at this level, and bring it like that, at his age – I just have massive respect for him.
“Now I look forward to the next one. I’ve still got the belt, I’m still the champion and I’m very happy. It was close but it’s never easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it. Until the next time. God bless England.”