Michael Bisping will tell you nothing has changed since he became the UFC middleweight champion. The 37-year-old is still the same brash Brit who emerged victorious from season three of The Ultimate Fighter a decade ago.
His tongue is as sharp as ever, cutting through the many rivals snapping at his heels. He is still highly confident, still an ebullient character away from the Octagon and still carries a fervid passion for his home nation. After UFC 204 in Manchester, he’s also still the best middleweight on the planet.
Indeed, Bisping came through the first defence of his crown and earned a unanimous decision against Dan Henderson after a hellacious five-round war which saw him dropped twice by the same overhand right which knocked him out back at UFC 100. It was Bisping’s third fight of 2016, a year which started with an extraordinary win over the legendary Anderson Silva, was followed up by one of the biggest shocks in middleweight history as he knocked out champion Luke Rockhold on two-weeks notice and then culminated with the win on home soil.
Yes, Bisping will say not much has changed but in reality it has because 2016 has been his year. Nominations for Fight of the Year (Silva), Knockout of the Year (Rockhold), Upset of the Year (Rockhold) and Fighter of the Year are surely cemented. It’s difficult to envisage how the past 12 months could have gone any better.
It’s not always been like this for Bisping, though. Noted for his unshakable drive and desire, many, especially in North America, had thought him nothing more than a perennial contender, incapable of claiming the victory, or knockout, needed to earn himself a title shot.
In truth, Bisping has been unappreciated. Perhaps when he brings his career to a close his feats will be truly admired but for now he’s sitting comfortable having achieved everything he set out to do.
“People like to talk s***. They can say whatever they want because at the end of the day I am the middleweight champion of the world,” Bisping tells Sport360 when asked if he feels unappreciated by fans.
“I have the most wins in UFC history, the most wins in middleweight history and in the history of any division I’ve landed the most strikes.
“Nearly every fight I’ve had has been a main event or a co-main event so I don’t feel the need to sell myself. (Chris) Weidman can say it’s embarrassing that I’m the champion but I knocked out the guy (Rockhold) who dominated him. Yeah, there are detractors, there always are but I’m sitting here a very happy man. I love it and I love that they’re so annoyed. It puts a big smile on my face.”
It’s hard to deny that Bisping now carries the swagger of a man on top of his game. Speaking at the official opening of Dubai’s UFC Gym, his form in front of the media replicated that of his Octagon success which has seen ‘The Count’ stretch his win streak to five with his last defeat coming in 2014.
It’s poignant to look back at that loss, too, because on November 7 it will be two years since he suffered a second-round submission defeat to Rockhold. Many had written Bisping off, finding it difficult to envisage how he could recover to earn that elusive title shot. But for a man who has altered little over the years, something changed in the embers of that loss.
Truthfully, Bisping has looked like a man reinvented and he puts his recent success down to a newly discovered mental fortitude and the introduction of the USADA last year.
“Nothing’s changed about me but people can’t take steroids these days, so that’s certainly helped,” he says. “Of course my boxing coach Jason Parillo has done a great job. Mentally, I’m much better, I’m more mature mentally these days and I’m not as much of an emotionally wreck as what I used to be.
“Obviously fighting is a physical sport but the mind controls everything the body does and if the mind is not right then you won’t perform. Mentally, I’m in my peak.”
While Bisping recognises that at 37 his physical prime is on the descent, his career has been emblematic of two five-round wars he’s endured this year. The first three rounds of his career have been turbulent, often with his head on the canvas, but when it comes to the final championship rounds, he’s prospered –much like how he is enjoying prosperity in the twilight of his MMA years.
But what will stand out most for Bisping, is the return to Manchester as the UK’s first and only UFC champion.
“It doesn’t get any better than that for me really,” he says of his victory over Henderson. “I was the first ever British champion to then defend it in England, in Manchester, just down the road from where I’m from with all my family there, my brothers, my sisters, my mum and my dad, all my old childhood friends, sold out in six minutes, defending the belt in an epic fight – it doesn’t get any better than that.
“I could retire now a very, very happy man. Financially I’m going to take a few more fights but I’ve certainly achieved way more than I thought I ever would do and I’ve achieved every goal I could set.”
And with money on his mind to close out a Hall-of-Fame career, Bisping has eyes for the mega－fights and one man who has piqued his interest is Canada’s welterweight icon Georges St-Pierre.
“Georges talked about fighting me a while ago and I’d love to fight the guy,” he adds. “It’d be terrific for me business-wise, and I also think I’d beat the guy. Of course, it’s a good fight for me, so it’s down to him. I’m here if you want to fight, Georges. Let’s go. Sign the papers, buddy. That’s all you’ve got to do. If I fight GSP, I will be the winner, I will be victorious, and I will knockout Georges St-Pierre.”
See, not much has changed, Bisping is still the same trash-talking Brit who will challenge himself against anyone.
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