Michael Bisping: A Retrospective
And just like that, the sun sets on the career of “The Count”, Michael Bisping. On Monday, May 28th, Bisping announced on his podcast, Believe You Me, that he was calling it a day. He ends his run with a professional record of 30-9, 20 UFC victories (a joint record), a Cage Rage Light Heavyweight Championship, a Cage Warriors Light Heavyweight Championship, The Ultimate Fighter 3 Light Heavyweight Tournament Trophy, and of course, an improbable UFC Middleweight Championship.
After plenty of public indecision on a potential final fight, a viewing of British boxing film Journeyman (2017) on a plane helped him finally leave his octagonal pursuits in the rear-view: “It ain’t worth it. I mean what else am I gonna do? I’ve won the belt, I’ve had tonnes of wins, I’ve done everything I set out to achieve.” In the film, Paddy Considine plays a boxer whose world begins to crumble as he suffers a debilitating brain injury after a fight. For Bisping, this was a case of Jungian synchronicity, as his good eye is now encountering problems. As to prospective further damage in a purely symbolic final outing, “it ain’t worth it.”
He’s correct. It isn’t worth it. I’m sure we could each point to fighters we wish would have experienced a similar instance of serendipity on a plane, so it’s important that we celebrate when someone leaves on their own terms. It’s heart-breaking of course, especially to fans in the UK who have had Bisping as their brightest beacon over in America’s biggest promotion. However, the Lancashire native established a legacy that paves the way for British prosperity in the cage. Still the only Englishman to win a UFC title, he leaves the door ajar for the likes of Darren Till, Tom Breese and Leon Edwards, amongst others.
Michael Bisping first entered the UFC way back in 2006, as part of The Ultimate Fighter season 3, competing in the light heavyweight division. This came after two years of dominance on the national scene as a member of both the Cage Rage and Cage Warriors rosters, capturing both their 205 belts. A rambunctious youth, Michael frequently found himself engaging in brawls at school, so his Dad thought martial arts a good avenue for Bisping’s lively expression. He pursued this at an amateur level before settling into working class life.
In his mid-twenties, Michael, now with a young and growing family, was encouraged by a work colleague to strive for something greater in life. After some soul searching, Bisping informed his adviser that he intended to become a professional fighter. Naturally, he was less than impressed, but with the desire to provide a sturdier foundation for his children, Bisping embarked on his MMA journey in earnest.
Bisping was an instant standout in the UFC. With his aggressive stand up style and brash British manner, he found himself as somewhat of a Marmite figure, meaning you either loved him or hated him for our friends across the pond not familiar with Britain’s pervasive and polarising food spread. He employed an aggressive trash talking game, and with his distinct British accent, this proved to be less than popular overseas. For British fans though, it was a treat to see a blue collar Englishman mix it up over on American television.
The American Dream
“The Count” wasn’t the first Englishman to fight in the UFC; Ian Freeman holds that honour. Debuting in 2000, Freeman would make a decent attempt at the big time. He would go on to beat future heavyweight champ Frank Mir in London. Unfortunately, a loss to Andrei Arlovski and a draw to Vernon White would send him packing back to Blighty. Lee Murray would have a crack in 2004. Alas, activities outside of the octagon would curtail any American dreams he may have harboured. Bisping seemed to be a consistent presence though, and he was our greatest hope. After winning TUF 3, he had a successful start.
Bisping would win his first four fights at 205 lbs, moving him up the ladder and towards a title shot. He would eventually run into the surging Rashad Evans and suffer his first professional defeat. This ended any aspirations towards the light heavyweight strap. When questions about his frame were asked, Michael made the move to middleweight, where he would spend the rest of his career. Meanwhile, “Suga” Rashad Evans would capture the light heavyweight championship two fights later. A temporary setback for the British torch bearer.
Another successful start in the middleweight division would net him victories over Charles McCarthy, Jason Day and Chris Leben. In 2009 Bisping was rewarded for these impressive performances. “The Count” was placed in a middleweight title eliminator and given a spot coaching on The Ultimate Fighter season 9. His opposition? A man who would become a fixed point in the legacy of Michael Bisping: Dan “Hendo” Henderson.
The Ultimate Fighter season 9 was themed “United States vs. United Kingdom”, and the quintessentially British and American coaches stirred up copious amounts of vitriol based on the concept. Thanks to the geographically bolstered competitiveness between the two middleweights, the rivalry entered UFC 100 with plenty of heat. Bisping of course served as the villain at the Las Vegas based event. This was thanks to his nonstop trash talk directed at the American Henderson on the then prominent reality show.
After falling short at light heavyweight, Bisping now had a concrete opportunity to make a run at a UFC title. And, he had it at UFC 100, which held the record for most pay-per-view buys at 1.6 million until UFC 202 topped it seven years later. So when Michael Bisping entered the cage, he did it with his biggest opportunity on the line, with his biggest rival in front of him, on the biggest stage possible, with his most vocal detractors surrounding him, and with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. No pressure.
What followed was one of the most brutal knockouts in the history of combat sports. The Englishman lay on the canvas thanks to a trademark H-bomb, stiff as a board and toes curled. Dan Henderson’s forearm then plummeting towards his defenceless chin. Michael Bisping once again came up short – denied the opportunity to fight for a UFC championship and achieve his dream.
At thirty years of age, there was time for Bisping to get back on track. He could still do what no Englishman had been able to do. Critics though, assuredly took this as evidence that Bisping couldn’t get it done when it counted.
That’s the end of part 1. In part 2, we’ll cover the rest of Bisping’s career, including his historic championship victory. See you then.
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