UFC legend Michael Bisping caught up with Eddie Mercado of Bloody Elbow for an interview | Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Check out our exclusive interview with UFC Hall of Fame legend Michael “The Count” Bisping — who discusses his new documentary, gives advice to introverted fighters, and weighs in on a hypothetical Jon Anik vs. Brenden Fitzgerald matchup.
Michael “The Count” Bisping was never a blue chip prospect in MMA, however through sheer grit and determination he kept defying the odds to reach such achievements as becoming the TUF 3 winner, the UFC middleweight champion (with one eye), as well as being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019.
Since retiring from competition in 2017 with a respectable record of 30-9, Bisping has settled in as a UFC commentator, and also has a new documentary coming out on March 22nd on Digital and On Demand called Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story. “The Count” caught up with Bloody Elbow to discuss his new movie, his keys to being successful, his feuds with Dan Henderson and Luke Rockhold, and he even gives a prediction for a hypothetical MMA match between fellow commentators Jon Anik and Brenden Fitzgerald.
You’re the former UFC middleweight champion, a UFC Hall of Famer, the TUF 3 winner, an actor, commentator, I saw you on this gameshow with suped up cars. You have quite the laundry list of accomplishments, so what is the driving force that inspires you to pursue your passions?
“It’s pretty simple, really. It’s my family. My wife and children. I want to give them the best life possible. I want to try because I know how hard it is to struggle in this life. Sadly, a lot of people do. It’s a cruel world out there, and just living and getting by is tough. It’s hard. So, whilst I’m still around I’m going to try and do everything I can to make sure my family are well taken care of.”
Your consistency is unrivaled in the sport of MMA and downright remarkable. I’m sure you’re aware of this, but since you turned pro in 2004, you fought at least two times every single year until you retired in 2017. So for you, what are some of the coping mechanisms you developed over the years to help you on those days when you’re not motivated, you’re banged up, but you still have to show up?
“That’s a great question because the fight night, talking about the fighting side of things, the fight night is easy. It’s easy to walk out there. I mean that’s when you have fun. The training camp is the hard part. On fight night you walk out there, there’s 20,000 people in an arena, you get to go to work, hopefully you win the fight. They’re all cheering for you, at the end of it you’re giving a nice big nice check, you’re rewarded handsomely, you’re the man of the moment. All that type of stuff. That’s great; that’s easy.”
“The hard part is when you wake up on a cold, miserable, wet Tuesday morning and your body is aching from head to toe and you can hardly walk. You got to go down to the gym and there’s a bunch of guys waiting there to spar you/or beat you up. There’s no crowd cheering for you, there’s no check at the end of it. There’s no adoration. There’s nothing. It’s just a grind day after day after day.”
“It’s like anything in life. A lot of people look at the final results. They see that someone may be successful, and they think wow he’s got it easy. Look at that guy. They’re not seeing the hours and hours, and years and years of sacrifice and dedication that goes into it. If anything is worth doing, or having, it’s worth fighting for. Literally I guess in this sense. It goes back to my family. I always wanted to provide for them and give them the best life possible. Of course for me also, I felt like I was living the life and being who I was always destined to be. I was good at fighting and that was my gift. I found that. I harnessed it, and made it work for me.”
You won the UFC middleweight title at UFC 199 in 2016 by knocking out Luke Rockhold in your rematch. After winning the belt, did you go on a ‘I told you so’ tour?
“I do a podcast called Believe You Me so maybe I did on there, and then the UFC kindly sent me on a world tour. But I never did that. I never went ‘I told you so,’ but I did kind of feel like that internally. In fact, after the fight I jumped up on the ring and screamed out ‘F—k you!’ And that wasn’t just directed at my opponent, who totally dismissed and gave me zero chance of winning the fight, and mocked me the whole time leading up. That was also to the wider world.”
“I talk about this in the documentary. I talk about how I was written off so many times throughout my career, and nobody gave me a chance, and everyone doubted me. They said oh he’s not good enough, he’s not strong enough, he’s not fast enough, he’s not athletic enough, he’s just not skilled enough. There’s just no way this guy’s going to do it. But I had some key support individuals. My wife, Jason Parillo my coach, obviously my parents and things like that, but the wider world did not give me a chance of achieving any kind of success… it felt good at the end. It felt good to get there the long old fashioned way.”
What was more satisfying, avenging your Dan Henderson loss to defend the belt, or avenging your Luke Rockhold loss to win the belt?
“Ooooh. Both in different ways. I mean obviously becoming champion of the world and beating Luke, that was great. But Luke beat me fair and square. Dan Henderson was on all kinds of testosterone replacement therapy, which was a loophole. Which was fair at the time, but he then went. It’s not fair. It’s not fair, but technically it was legal. It’s not morally correct. Long after that was outlawed he was still fighting. All these people were using a loophole to basically cheat and take steroids.”
“Then, after that he mad emo unconscious on the floor kind of his logo, you know what I mean, for his gym. It was me unconscious and a silhouette of him flying above me about to deliver that second blow. So, it was nice to get that rematch and put him in his place, but of course it wasn’t an easy fight. Round one and two he connected with the H-bomb again. OF course the entire training camp was avoid the right hand, but as my old boxing coach says, you don’t go in the rain without getting wet. He built a career on that right hand, so God bless him. They were both good for different reasons.”
One thing you’re known for is your gift of gab. You’ve always been someone who can sell a fight and build interest around your matches, no matter who was standing across from you. Do you have any advice for those fighters who might be more introverted, or more reserved in the public eye, to help them build their following?
“It is a tricky one and I know exactly what you’re talking about there, because the last thing people should do is go out and be fake, or try to put on a persona. The public can tell. they can see right through it and it just comes across as corny and cheesy, and it just doesn’t work. It has the opposite effect, so just be true to yourself.”
“When you’re in the Octagon, when we fight, it doesn’t come around very often so you got to make the most of that time. I always say this, maybe it’s not a call out, and I’m not saying have a rehearsed line, but have some kind of message. Maybe have something to say. That is as big as it gets in terms of being a mixed-martial artist. You’re in the UFC, you’ve just been victorious, and now you’re talking to me. Haha I’m joking, but now you’ve got the microphone in your face and the whole world is watching. If you don’t know who you are prior to that, if you’re an up and coming fighter, give the world watching a reason to remember you. Hopefully the fight was enough, but then still, they want to connect with the person.”
Your gift of gab has also landed you a gig as a UFC commentator. It might look easy on TV, but it must actually be pretty challenging being the one there live all night with producers in your ear, a ton of source material to know, and of course all of the internet trolls being over critical. What would you say is the hardest part of that job?
“It is a tough job because we are talking live for seven hours on T.V. off the cuff, no script. The play-by-play guys have reads they have to do, but for the color commentators we’re literally just watching and just chatting away for seven hours. And you’re right, sometimes there’s a slip of the tongue. Sometimes you say the wrong fighter’s name, but you’re live, you’re in the action, people are getting knocked out. Wow you get excited, and people straight away, ‘oh he said this word wrong.’ It’s like dude, I’ve been talking for seven hours. You try that and not make one mistake.”
“But I love it. I’m so passionate about it. The research is challenging because I take that very seriously. I want to give the first fight not he prelims the same respect as the main event. Those guys may be making their UFC debut, it’s the first fight of the night, there’s not many people in the building or whatever, and maybe there’s not too many people watching on T.V. but for them, that is their main event. That is their world title fight, so I want to make sure I know enough about them and try to portray their story to the public. It is challenging and takes a lot of time. When I’m commenting on a Saturday night, Monday through Saturday it’s all commentary research. For a guy that was never very good at doing homework at school, that’s a challenge.”
Jon Anik vs. Brenden Fitzgerald in an MMA match, who takes it?
“Hahaha that is a good one. Well Jon’s got to be faster because he’s smaller, and he’s wiry, and he runs every single day. In fact, ok since he runs everyday he’s going to have better cardio than Brenden. Brenden these days, there was a while there he was trying to become like some sort of jiu jitsu badass, but now he’s gone back to playing the cello and the piano and stuff like that.”
“Brenden’s a wannabe artsy fartsy kind of guy. He comes in and he’s playing some bloody music in the changing room, and he’s singing away. And I’m just like, ah Brenden just stop it. We’re talking about cage fighting, ok. I know you want it to be talking about theater, and arts, and stuff like that but we’re going to commentate a cage fight. So shut up, put your cello down, put your piano down. So for those reasons, I got Jon Anik all day long.”
I love your back and forth with him.
“I love Brenden by the way. He’s hilarious and has such a great sense of humor because i bust his balls all the time with that kind of thing, and he comes right back at me in his own way as well. he’s great to work with, and he’s a true professional — as is Jon Anik. Both of those inspired me a lot when you see the research and prep that goes into what they do, and their passion for the sport as well. yeah, it’s beautiful to see.”
Aside from commenting, you have a new documentary coming out on March 22nd on Digital and On Demand called Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story. What’s at the heart of this film?
“It focuses a lot on the losses. It’s not just oh aren’t I great, it’s about the struggles that I went through. I think a lot of people can take inspiration from it, because I’ve had a lot of very kind messages from people who saw it in Canada, where it was released first. It said, ‘wow, what a story. It’s really helped me through my struggles and helped me to refuse to quit basically.’ Because that’s essentially what I did.”
What do you hope will be the audience’s biggest takeaway from this movie?
“Everyone has a gift; everyone is good at something. For me, it was weirdly enough the fighting and martial arts. Which is obviously not for everyone, but I was able to recognize that and then put a plan into place of where that could take me, and where I could go. What is the absolute ultimate of where that skill can take you. But now you’ve got to get off your ass and do the hard work, you know what I mean. You can’t just talk about it. I think everyone has a similar gift, not fighting, but most people are good at something.”
“Realize what that is, and dare to dream, because a lot of people laughed at me at the beginning. I said I was going to be a professional fighter. I know people were talking shit. I know people were saying, what is he doing, they’re already broke. He’s quitting work to become a professional fighter. What is he doing?’ So you’ve got to believe in yourself, dare to dream, and if you’re lucky enough having a supportive wife in the background helps. And go for it. Don’t let people tell you no. I hope that can be the biggest message really.”