I was a late bloomer to the vast and amazing world of MMA. My introduction to the sport didn’t manifest until mid-2009 when a coworker invited me over to watch a Pride Fighting Championships event. I was instantly hooked. We would watch these old Pride DVDs for five or six hours at a time. It was captivating, and it was what began my love of all things MMA.
With that came the first viewing of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom, with former Pride champion Dan Henderson and TUF 3 winner Michael “The Count” Bisping serving as head coaches.
I learned quite rapidly that I was not fond of Bisping. My understanding of MMA was in its infancy, but after seeing all the respect and showmanship that went along with Pride, Bisping’s cocky attitude and demeanor were off-putting at best. It was easier to root for Henderson. He was a legend of the sport. Henderson’s cool and calm demeanor rang true to how I believed a fighter should act. Yes, he had his moments of arrogance, but I looked past that to root against his British rival. By the time the show had ended, I was ready to see the two men square off and finish this banter inside the Octagon.
I must have watched that replay a hundred times. The overhand right. The finish. The extra punch just to “shut him up a little bit” by Henderson, played over and over. That was my introduction to Bisping. It was a bit late in the game, but it was cemented quite early in my burgeoning fandom. Things didn’t change much over the years, either.
When I stepped into the MMA writing world shortly after my crash course, Bisping was always outside of my radar. His attitude just didn’t sit right with me. I pushed aside the man and any talent he had based on that first initial introduction to him and his personality. The Brit went on to compete 11 more times over the next five years. My stance on him remained fixed. I don’t know if it was his fighting style or arrogance, but I still couldn’t quite put my finger on why I just didn’t like the guy.
All of that changed at UFC Fight Night 48 in 2014. Bisping was slated to take on Cung Le. I expected fireworks from Le. I could not have imagined that those fireworks would instead come from Bisping. That fight showed me a whole other side to Bisping that I had not had the pleasure of seeing. He took chances. He smelled blood and went in for the finish. It was an absolute display of beauty. It’s also the reason I started to believe that Bisping could and would actually become a champion one day.
Over the next couple of years, Bisping suffered only one setback to Luke Rockhold. He started to tear through the opposition that was put in front of him. The Brit seemed like he was getting better with age and that nothing could stop him. However, the idea was looming that he’d drop that one important fight prior to getting a title shot, something he had dealt with quite often in his career. Bisping always seemed to be just one win away from that elusive title shot.
Bisping wasn’t supposed to beat the surging Thales Leites. Leites had rattled off five consecutive wins. Bisping didn’t look like he stood a chance. It was only a split decision in the Brit’s favor, but a win nonetheless.
Bisping’s next bout was against none other than the greatest middleweight champion that the UFC had ever seen: Anderson Silva. With the exception of the third-round fiasco (if you haven’t seen it, take a gander), Bisping came out on top and scored a unanimous-decision victory, something that no other fighter had done against Silva in 16 years. It was incredible and happened in London, to add that extra feather to his cap.
Bisping appeared destined for the title shot he so desperately craved. A fight to avenge a loss. A fight with Rockhold, the reigning champion at the time. However, it was announced that the fight was granted to Chris Weidman in order for the former champ to get a chance to regain his crown.
The cards lined up for Bisping after all, though, when it was announced that Weidman had to pull out due to an injury. Bisping was granted his rematch. His title shot. On just 10 days’ notice.
It was an insane idea to think that this was Bisping’s shot, his one chance to capture the belt and complete his climb up the MMA ladder. The odds were against him — at one point, they stood at 10-1. I remember thinking this was the time for Bisping. It was a win-win for the Brit and almost a lose-lose for Rockhold. If Rockhold won, then he had beaten a man he had already bested once. If Rockhold lost, then he would have lost to someone who took the fight on less than two weeks’ notice.
This was when I knew Bisping had every tool to win the title.
The announcement foreshadowed what would turn out to be an amazing main event. UFC 199 was easily one of the best top-to-bottom cards the UFC has produced in recent years. Every fight leading up to the rematch between Bisping and Rockhold was a collection of energy just building. The main event started, and Bisping dropped Rockhold twice in the first round, leading up to his knockout victory. It was a surreal moment for everyone watching, but a true moment in the evolution of the career of Bisping. This was his time. He became the first Brit to hold a UFC championship belt, and it could not have been around the waist of a better fighter.
Bisping went on to avenge one of the most haunting losses of his career in his first title defense against the aforementioned Henderson. The fight came just five months after the Brit captured the title. Bisping was able to outlast and outwork Henderson en route to another decision win.
The buildup for Bisping’s next bout was nothing short of hilarious.
Bisping and Georges St-Pierre is a fight I never even imagined happening, let alone for the middleweight belt after GSP had been gone for four years. The lead-up to the bout gave fans some of the funniest moments in MMA, including GSP accusing Bisping of being drunk and Bisping talking about how he could beat GSP even if he was drunk. The back-and-forth went on for months before it was finally announced that Bisping would make his second title defense against St-Pierre.
Some would view this fight as a turning point in the career of Bisping. He was submitted by GSP in the third round of their fight. St-Pierre later relinquished the belt, as awkward as that was, and Bisping ended up fighting three weeks later to save a fight from being scrapped when he took on Kelvin Gastelum. Bisping went out on his shield — Gastelum knocked him out in the first round.
Watch any of the pre- or post-fight shows and you can see what Bisping brought to the table as an analyst. His arrogance turned into knowledge. His brash behavior looks miniscule in comparison to some of the actions of current UFC fighters. His wealth of knowledge and ability to analyze became music to the ears of fans. If they didn’t like Bisping before, one viewing of his jovial nature on the UFC pre-/post-fight show could certainly change that.
Retirement seemed to be looking for Bisping. He made it official on May 28. It was a sad day. Bisping still seems to have a lot of fight in him. But more than ever, I applaud and respect his decision to walk away when he did. He climbed the highest mountain. He scaled the tallest peak. He looked at the world around him and achieved the greatness he strived for all those years. Bisping leaves with a stack of UFC records that will be hard to match. There will be no other fighter like him.
Bisping was an ambassador for the sport. He stepped up when he needed to and didn’t make any excuses, win or lose. He stayed humble as a champion and kept fans and fighters on their toes, whether it was with jokes or the occasional jab at another fighters’ looks or style.
As a writer of this sport for nearly 10 years, I have seen a lot of fighters come and go. It would have been an honor to speak with Bisping. I’m hoping that chance still exists.
But until that day, Michael Bisping, thank you for all that you have done.
Someone you made into a believer.