(Bisping vs. Kang from Paul Thatcher’s UFC 105 gallery.)
Neal Taflinger’s profile of Michael Bisping originally appeared in the Oct. 2008 issue of FIGHT! Magazine. Bisping suffered a brutal knockout loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 but rebounded with a win over Denis Kang at UFC 105 and hopes to climb back into contention at 185 with a win over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110 on Feb. 21 in Sydney, Australia.
Club DJs get used to hearing the same things over and over. They live on a steady diet of looped instrumentals and break beats, playing the same platters week after week. Michael Bisping is no different; the UFC middleweight made ends meet for nearly a decade spinning house and trance in clubs near his home in northwestern England. But Bisping lost his regular gigs when he left home to tape season three of The Ultimate Fighter and hasn’t had a chance to dust off his decks since.
Since he emerged victorious from Zuffa’s reality show, Bisping, known by the nickname The Count, has still heard a few things repeatedly: he’s a jerk, he’s got no ground game, and he’s been protected by UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. “You read some of the [MMA internet] forums and you’d think I was Osama Bin Laden,” Bisping says with a laugh.
“I’m a pretty humble guy,” he says. Bisping chalks up people’s views of him to a misunderstanding of, “ sarcasm and the British sense of humor.” He frequently exhibits the British habit of saying whatever he’s thinking, other people’s feelings be damned. He offers no apologies for the swagger that irritates so many of his detractors. “If you don’t have confi dence, you shouldn’t be a fi ghter,” he says simply.
Bisping is also amused by criticism of his ground skills, seeing as that’s the oldest component of his MMA game. “I was always a fan of martial arts movies – Bruce Lee, Rocky, any kind of fi ghting movie,” says Bisping. “My brother went to Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and I tagged along.” The fi ghter earned a black belt in the discipline and won numerous tournaments, earning a silver medal at the Men’s World Championships in New Zealand when he was sixteen. However, the British brawler has had few opportunities to showcase his ground skills, fi nishing fi ve of his seven UFC opponents by TKO.
He gets serious when talk turns to the third tune in his critics’ repertoire, the idea that he’s been fed easy fi ghts so parent company Zuffa can advance the brand in the United Kingdom. The retired turntable expert is hoping to lift the needle permanently on the last of those criticisms when he meets Chris Leben on October 18 at UFC 89 in Birmingham, England.
“My fi rst fi ght [after winning The Ultimate Fighter Season 3 Finale] was Eric Schaffer. He was coming off two decent wins in the UFC,” says Bisping. “My second fi ght was Elvis Sinosic, a veteran who was Forrest Griffi n’s second fi ght on his contract as well.” Then he faced Matt Hamill and the undefeated Rashad Evans. Those were tough fi ghts, considering that according to Bisping, “Wrestlers are like kryptonite for British fi ghters.” But he took the Hamill fi ght by controversial decision and was competitive in his loss to Evans.
Bisping demolished Charles McCarthy in his fi rst fi ght at middleweight and was preparing for Chris Leben, when Leben’s legal troubles forced him to withdraw from the bout. Jason Day, who had just destroyed Alan Belcher, stepped in to replace Leben. The Count fi nished Day with time to spare in the fi rst round.
Rather than battle the keyboard warriors who have it out for him, Bisping takes the fi ghts that are offered, fi nishes most of guys Joe Silva puts in front of him, and shrugs off the rest. “All I can do is fi ght the way I fi ght,” he says. The way Bisping, a former British national kickboxing champion, fi ghts should make for an entertaining battle with Leben when they step into the Octagon in Birmingham.
Leben is a reformed wild child who dropped out of two of his last three fi ghts after facing Anderson Silva in the middleweight champ’s UFC debut. A product of Team Quest, Leben relocated to Hawaii to train at the ICON Sport gym, tightening up his physique and technique in the process. The heavy-handed brawler is coming off of two stoppages and is looking to make a mark in the division.
Bisping is in the same position, in only his third fi ght at 185 pounds. “I think the move to middleweight is one of the best things that’s happened,” Bisping says. He is able to maintain a more frenetic pace at middleweight, and he says, “I didn’t even have to cut weight [for the fi ght with Day].” Bisping knows that Leben is a stiff test but he’s up to the challenge.
The fi ghter is wrapping up a working holiday in California with his fi ancé Rebecca and their two children. While the family enjoys the Pacifi c coast, dad heads to the Ultimate Training Center in Huntington Beach to work out with whoever is around. Bisping is excited to begin his formal training camp for UFC 89’s main event, which will begin when his clan trades the sun-drenched beaches of California for the cool, damp climes of England’s industrial north. “I’m not sure if looking forward to it is the right phrase ‘cause [training camp is] gonna be hell,” he says.
Bisping’s hell is located in a cement block building on the outskirts of Liverpool. The Wolfslair MMA Academy raised Bisping from a cub of a fi ghter until he held titles with both major English promotions. He could have relocated to a sexier town after fi nding success in the UFC, but Wolfslair is home, its fi ghters and coaches are family. Bisping lives in the countryside and drives an hour each way, sometimes twice a day. “It gets to be a pain in the ass,” says Bisping, “but there’s nothing like having a team dedicated to your next fi ght.” In addition to Wolfslair’s stable of fi ghters, Bisping’s trainers will bring in Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, K-1 fi ghters from Holland, and Bulgarian wrestlers, who Bisping hopes will strengthen his immunity to wrestling kryptonite.
The immediate goal is to dispatch Leben, but that’s just the next track in Bisping’s mix. “I’m on a mission to be the best in the world,” he says. When he moved down a weight class, he jumped out of the light heavyweight frying pan and into Anderson Silva’s fi re. “The Spider” is a sniper who has yet to expose a serious weakness in his game since entering the UFC, and there have been rumblings that he could even contend for the light heavyweight title after his devastating win over James Irvin at UFC Fight Night 14.
Bisping doesn’t expect to be favored against Silva should he earn a shot at the champ, but he doesn’t think he should be counted out, either. “I’ve fought a lot of MMA fi ghts, and I’ve only lost one. I’ve fought Jiu-Jitsu fi ghts, kickboxing fi ghts, and more fi ghts in the street than I want to admit to,” he says. “I’m not an easy fi ght for anyone. I’m mentally tough and I’m hard to hit.”
Bisping knows a win over The Crippler would be a solid addition to his middleweight portfolio and move him towards bigger fi ghts in the division. And who knows, it might just make his critics sing a different tune.