"I’m emotional in and out of the ring, and before and after a fight I’m emotional, but generally when I’m fighting, I’m very, very focused." - Michael Bisping
In the space of nine minutes and 14 seconds, Michael Bisping’s life had changed, but the winner of The Ultimate Fighter’s third season wasn’t about to. He had just defeated Josh Haynes in June of 2006, earned a UFC contract, and was soon to begin a journey that would not only make him a household name in his native England, but around the world.
Sitting in the locker room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino that night, getting his hand wraps cut off, he took a deep breath as if to almost take everything in. I jokingly asked him if he was going to miss returning to one of his old jobs as an upholsterer or in a slaughterhouse. The laugh that came back was one that didn’t need any words attached to it, but it said a mouthful.
“I’m not going back.”
He hasn’t, and from then until now, he’s much the same person. He hasn’t learned how to talk in clichés, he doesn’t skate around questions most would be uncomfortable with, and even though the tax bracket has changed, he remains someone he once told me was just “one of the lads.” Needless to say, despite a few costly losses and some ups and downs, he has no regrets.
“It’s been the best ride of my life,” said Bisping. “I remember (UFC President) Dana White saying some things when we came off The Ultimate Fighter and it’s fully lived up to everything he’s said and far exceeded it. Being part of the UFC family, I’m so proud and so happy with my life. I’m a lucky man. I get paid well, but I truly love my job. I love being a part of the UFC, I love being a professional fighter, and I love the rewards that it gives to me and my family. So it’s unbelievable.”
Now the stakes are even higher though. The first time he showed up at an Ultimate Fighter finale show, he was fighting for a job. On Saturday, he will be fighting to keep a dream of a world middleweight title shot alive. And the only one standing in his way is his opposing coach from season 14 of the reality series, Jason “Mayhem” Miller.
“I’m on a quest for the title, I want my title shot, and I’m almost there,” said Bisping. “I beat this guy and it’s not gonna give me a title shot, but I have to beat him, and there’s no way Jason Miller is gonna be the guy to stop me.”
It’s as vanilla as the two will get in their descriptions of each other, as a steady stream of trash talk between the middleweights has been building over the course of the season, with the culmination to come this weekend at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas.
“I never really had too much of a problem with the guy to start with, but a few of his antics on the show pissed me off,” said Bisping, who just wrapped up his second coaching stint on the show, having also coached season nine. “He (Miller) actually got physical a couple of times and pushed me, and in my book that’s crossing the line. You don’t put your hands on somebody. But whatever, I’m a big boy, I can take it, and I’m just looking forward to fighting the guy.”
If this sounds like a recurring theme in Bisping’s career, it is. And it goes back to that no-nonsense, say what’s on his mind, and refusal to hold his tongue attitude. But when there weren’t some verbal fireworks, as in his 2009-10 wins over Denis Kang, Dan Miller, and Yoshihiro Akiyama, Bisping has delivered some of his best victories. He doesn’t agree though.
“Those performances you mentioned were good performances, and there was no bad blood, but in my opinion, I think I fight better when I’m - for want of a better word - pissed off,” he said. “So for me, that does help. I’m emotional in and out of the ring, and before and after a fight I’m emotional, but generally when I’m fighting, I’m very, very focused and I’m focusing on what needs to be done as opposed to doing anything silly because of letting my emotions get the better of me.”
In other words, if he has to lose, it’s going to be to anyone except “Mayhem” Miller.
“Definitely,” he laughs. “I’ve been in the UFC since 2006, I’ve had about 14 fights in the organization, I’ve only got three losses on my entire record at middleweight and light heavy, I’ve only been stopped once, and I believe this is my time. I’m coming into my peak as a fighter, and everything’s there. I truly believe I’m one of the better fighters out there, and obviously I want to prove that. Take Miller out of the way, and probably one more fight, and then I get my title shot. I believe I match up well with (UFC middleweight champion) Anderson (Silva), I’ll certainly give him a helluva lot better fight than what everybody else has done lately. I ain’t gonna stand there and get front kicked in the face, or I’m not gonna get tapped in the face with a jab and fall over, so I want my shot and I feel I deserve it.”
Miller has similar feelings about tangling with “The Spider,” but neither fighter will get that coveted shot anytime soon without first delivering the goods on Saturday night. And to show the importance of the battle, it’s scheduled for the championship distance of five rounds. It’s a route Miller – who is returning to the UFC after a six year absence – is familiar with, but it’s new territory for “The Count,” who nonetheless is known for his seemingly endless reserve of cardio. So how is he gearing up for the possibility of an additional two rounds this weekend?
“It’s been a pain in the ass to be honest,” he laughs. “I spar three times a week, and that’s full MMA sparring with three or four different guys rotating in on me, and where it’s usually three rounds, now it’s five rounds three times a week, so yeah, I’ve been getting punched and kicked a helluva lot more. But other than that, I always train as hard as I possibly can because I’m hungry, I want to reach the top, and I want to get my respect as a fighter. I’ve never been able to understand why guys go out there and gas and can’t fight three rounds hard. So for a five round fight, I’ve stepped it up a little bit, and cardio ain’t gonna be a problem.”
The way he sees it, training for a five rounder against Miller is a perfect primer for a training camp geared for Silva. And though he’s been the target of plenty of abuse over the years on the internet, his eyes have not strayed from his goal, and he’s willing to take any verbal jabs he needs to as long as he knows the truth of his accomplishments thus far, and puts in the work he needs to in order to get his dream fight.
“If you go on the internet and believe everything that’s said there, I’m not too popular,” said Bisping. “But in my experience in day to day life, people are very, very kind to me. I live out here in California now, and people always have nice things to say. Obviously when they’ve got a keyboard to hide behind, they say something differently. When it comes to some of the hardcore fans and the guys who do talk about me, I think they see some of my antics and they do look past my skills. If you go on the Underground (forum) and look at the things they say, you’d think I couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag, but I lost a split decision to Rashad Evans, I got robbed of a decision against Wanderlei (Silva), and I got knocked out against Dan Henderson. Against Dan Henderson, that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned a lot from that fight and I realized a lot of the mistakes I was making. The other two fights were razor-thin. Other than that, I’ve stopped most of my guys, I have something like a 70% stoppage rate (Ed. Note – Bisping has actually finished nearly 82% of his pro victories by KO or submission), contrary to the idea that everybody has that I can’t punch as well. So I think that (his antics) does overshadow it sometimes, but that is the situation.”
And as Mike Tyson’s former trainer Cus D’Amato once said, ‘people who are born round don’t die square.” So don’t expect Bisping to change who he is for the sake of others. It’s worked for him so far, and he’s looking for similar positive results on Saturday.