Tim Kennedy will fight Michael Bisping on Wednesday in Quebec. (Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports and Jon Kopaloff/G)
Who: Tim Kennedy (17-4) vs. Michael “The Count” Bisping (25-5).
What: Five-round middleweight (185-pound) main event for “The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale.”
When: Wednesday, main card begins 7 p.m. Eastern.
Where: Quebec City, Quebec.
TV: Fox Sports 1 (find it here; prelims air on FS1 at 5 p.m. Eastern).
More online: Previews, photos and live coverage at MMAJunkie.com.
The build-up to Wednesday night’s UFC middleweight main event between Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy and Michael Bisping has included, but has not been limited to:
■ Ranger Up, the military-friendly apparel company and a long-time sponsor of Kennedy’s, putting out videos mocking Bisping’s mannerisms and prior bad behavior.
■ Bisping calling the actions of Kennedy, a special forces operator who served in Afghanistan, an “embarrassment to himself, the armed forces, and to the UFC.”
■ The Kennedy camp responding with a video starring the fighter as a pirate singing original lyrics to the theme of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and featuring an animated Bisping with pillows where his fists should be.
■ A steady barrage of social-media bad-mouthing from the combatants and their fan bases, including Bisping calling the soldier, a member of the Texas National Guard, a “#keyboardwarrior.”
It’s not exactly torn from the pages of “Rocky,” but it’s not an unusual path for either fighter to take as they prepare to battle at “The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale” in Quebec City, Quebec. The British Bisping has been cast as the villain for most of his eight-year UFC career, and Kennedy’s penchant for odd video releases has resulted in everything from Hamlet recitals to turns as the Black Swan and Ron Burgundy, of “Anchorman” fame, in the lead-up to his bouts.
Bisping stopped Jorge Rivera — another Ranger Up-backed fighter and a friend of Kennedy’s — in a 2011 fight in Australia, then spat at Rivera’s cornermen. He later apologized.
Kennedy, who didn’t fight in the UFC until 2013, frequently called out Bisping over social media — along with a long list of other fighters.
“Somewhere along the line ... he realized in this business, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said Luke Thomas, senior editor at MMAFighting.com, former co-host of Spike TV’s “MMA Uncensored” and former Marine. “If you complain and complain creatively, eventually they begin to listen.”
Kennedy won his first two UFC fights, including a first-round stoppage of Rafael Natal in November. Bisping hasn’t fought in a year thanks to an eye injury and is 2-2 since 2012, including a win over former Marine Capt. Brian Stann. They rank eighth and fifth, respectively, in the UFC’s middleweight (185-pound) division.
“He’s ranked above me. He’s a good fighter. He always comes in to fight,” Kennedy said in a video interview with USA Today sports, when asked why he wanted a bout with Bisping.
“And, he’s a jerk. It’s easier to get excited for a fight with a fighter you don’t like.”
It’ll be the second time in a UFC main event spot for Kennedy, who downed Natal in the final match at “Fight For the Troops 3” at Fort Campbell, Ky. A win likely wouldn’t mean a title shot for either fighter, Thomas said, “but they would certainly be in the conversation. That would be the stakes.”
The loser could have trouble getting back into championship consideration, regardless of social media following — Bisping’s 35, Kennedy’s 34, and the middleweight division has suddenly become a popular place for elite fighters with the defeat and departure of long-time champion Anderson Silva.
Oddsmakers favor Bisping slightly. Both fighters have, naturally, predicted victory, with Bisping, also naturally, pledging to “beat the s--- out of” Kennedy — and worse.
“I don’t think that after this fight, Michael and I are going to be best bros,” Kennedy told USA Today sports. “I don’t like the guy. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”