By Brad Wharton It’s tough to imagine a time when an Anderson Silva-helmed Saturday night spectacular would be overshadowed in the MMA bubble, let alone by something as supposedly trivial as a press conference. But when this week’s page in the history book (or Wikipedia) is written, 20 minutes of glorious televised shit-talking in a UFC gym may end up being more memorable than a fight between an all-time great and one of the sport’s finest foils. It was always going to be exactly the type of soundbite-heavy gold the UFC can’t get enough of. If Nick and Nate Diaz were as reliable (and in Nate’s case, consistent) as they are entertaining, they’d already have all the money, respect and whatever else it is they feel they’ve been shortchanged on this week in spades. If anything though, Wednesday’s hastily thrown together presser served to illustrate just how good Conor McGregor is when it comes to the promotional half (and it is – at least – half) of the fight game and by extension, how much he deserves all that he has acquired. Diaz will always be popular with the anti-Dana set and the vocal UFC social media counter-culture crowd, but those who know the fight game also realize Diaz may be popular, but it’s Conor who gets paid. Mumbling “motherfucker” at the end of every sentence can absolutely be amusing, but people are often laughing at the Diaz brothers, rather than with them. The smart and savvy side just isn’t there with Stockton’s finest, as was evidenced perfectly by Nate throwing the UFC under the bus with his ‘everyone is on steroids’ jibe. In any other sport he’d have been cross-examined (and embarrassed) vigorously, maybe even charged with bringing the game into disrepute. Instead, through fear of media reprisals and the fact that many leading MMA journos weren’t in attendance, it was left to McGregor to side-step the verbal jab and deal a killing counter strike. Note that ‘The Notorious’ didn’t go down the easy road of bringing the Diaz brothers’ horticultural habits into play either; he was there to promote a fight, not get into a shouting match and there is a subtle difference. Understanding that is part of what makes Conor the finest mic-man in MMA; he’s always on message. Love or hate McGregor (and he’s fully aware that both camps exist; that’s what makes him rich), he understands the game and plays it in a way that guys like Nate Diaz don’t. He may well make more from fighting Diaz next weekend than his original, almost forgotten opponent. Spider vs Man From a fight that couldn’t come quickly enough, to one that is way overdue. For years, overly optimistic British UFC fans opined that Michael Bisping’s footwork, pace and tenacity might just be the most interesting puzzle for mythical middleweight Anderson Silva to solve. No really, they did. But the times, as Bob Dylan droned through the thick haze of a heroin binge some 50 years ago, they are a-changing. It could be argued that you’d need to have been in the throes of a fairly prolific smack habit to have ever given Bisping a legitimate shot against the finest exponent of the eight-limbed art to grace the Octagon, during Silva’s prime. Could things be different in 2016? As ‘The Count’ continually came up short against top-shelf opponents, consensus was that his time – and that elusive title shot – had passed him by. Fate is a motherfucker though; nobody predicted that Bisping would keep on trucking after all these years and more importantly, that Silva’s downfall would play out in such a sudden and messy fashion. It’s a left field point of view, but this could be Bisping’s best ever shot at drawing a line under Brazil’s fallen idol. Silva is nearly 41 years old. His legacy is set; he’s either tarnished it with a failed drug test or cemented it with one of the sport’s finest careers, depending on where you sit. He’s been to the top of the mountain. He’s made his money. He is, arguably, the greatest of all time. So what’s left? Michael Bisping – even at 36 – still feeds off a raging fire. This was the fight he always wanted; through that long, arduous, stuttering climb that he never quite finished, Anderson Silva was always his Everest. For the lion’s share of 10 years and 24 fights, ‘The Spider’ was the final boss and the kid from Clitheroe might just have one last credit. He’s never lost at home, either. And if the notion of Bisping having a shot against Silva isn’t weird enough, it’s all going down on a UK Fight Pass card in the middle of the afternoon. As we say in England… It’s a funny old game.
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