From Postman To Middleweight Champion: Michael Bisping’s UFC Journey
Love him or loath him, Michael Bisping should be celebrated as one of the greats of the UFC. His turbulent road to the title has seen major setbacks with losses at critical times that would erode the belief of any fighter, but not Bisping; his will and ruthless determination has enabled him to fulfil his dream of becoming the Middleweight Champion – the first ever British fighter to hold UFC gold.
At an early age, Bisping took up martial arts such as Jujutsu, Boxing, Kickboxing and Karate and showed real potential. However, forced to abandon full-time training in pursuit of a ‘real job’, he worked a variety of trades – at one time or another he was an upholsterer, a postman, a tiler and plasterer. Knowing deep down that his destiny was in fighting, he sacrificed everything to pursue a career in MMA. Let’s take a look at the statistics involved in his meteoric rise to the top:
Michael Bisping is Britain’s most well-known and longest serving UFC fighter. He made his debut way back in 2006 and since has accumulated an impressive set of fight statistics:
The Start of Michael Bisping’s UFC Career
Prior to Bisping’s introduction to the UFC, he boasted an unblemished 10-0 record at Light Heavyweight claiming three championship belts along the way. In 2006, he carried this confidence on to the third season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ catching the eye of UFC fans all over the world. This reality TV series enabled him to not only showcase his talent but also his character. He was entertaining, funny and brilliantly irritating. He went on to win the show with a TKO over Josh Haynes in the finale becoming the first ever British winner of The Ultimate Fighter series, securing a six-figure contract with the UFC in the process – the star was emerging.
Bisping carried this momentum into the UFC notching up three more wins boosting his record up to 14-0. Meanwhile, Rashad Evans the winner of the second series of The Ultimate Fighter was also on an unbeaten tear of the division – it was fate that these two fighters would meet in the octagon to uncover a top contender for the Light Heavyweight belt. Unfortunately for Bisping, he suffered his first career loss via a split decision. As crushing as this loss was he put on an exceptional performance. Evans, the National Collegiate wrestler was expected to dominate with his superior grappling skills but Bisping had other ideas defending the takedown for the majority of the bout, much to the surprise of MMA fans. Although this was the first loss of Bisping’s career derailing his title hopes, this proved to be a blessing in disguise leading him to drop down into the Middleweight division (185lbs) and start his journey to capturing the Middleweight championship.
Road to the Middleweight title
Bisping bounced straight back after his loss to Evans by winning his first three fights at Middleweight and earning himself a title eliminator bout against the legendary Dan Henderson – the two had starred as coaches in the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter building up to UFC 100. In the second round, Henderson uncorked a trademark ‘H-Bomb’ clean on the jaw, rendering Bisping unconscious before he even hit the mat. It was UFC 100, it was a title eliminator, it was one of the most devastating knock outs in UFC history.
The force and trauma inflicted by Henderson’s right hand was enough to prematurely end a career, let alone the confidence of a fighter. Just look at Ronda Rousey who suffered a similarly devastating head kick knock out in her last fight against Holly Holm. Prior to this she had an aura of invincibility, unbeaten and ploughing through her division with ease. Coming up to a year since the former champion has hidden herself away contemplating her own life, let alone her desire to fight again. This shows just how brutal and unforgiving the sport is. With all this said, Bisping stepped back inside the octagon only four months later to finish Dennis Kang in two rounds.
The road to the title was never going to be easy with a division littered by absolute monsters as setbacks became a theme of his journey. Rewarded with his win over Kang, another legend was handed to him in the form of: Wanderlei Silva in which he lost via decision. He recovered with four impressive wins however up until his loss to Luke Rockhold, these elite level fighters prevented him from stringing two wins together:
Rivalry with Luke Rockhold
UFC Fight Night in Sydney was the stage for the first encounter between Bisping and the former Strikeforce champion. After comments from Bisping claiming he got the better of Rockhold in sparring, an intense rivalry ignited with an abundance of trash talking between the two. Rockhold, arguably the most well rounded fighter on the entire UFC roster had lost just one fight in his last twelve and on the night of 7th November 2014 he simply had too much class. After peppering Bisping with heavy kicks, one broke through in the second round catching him on the top of the head sending him to the mat in a daze allowing Rockhold to spectacularly finish the fight with a one-arm mounted guillotine. Taking nothing away from Bisping – Rockhold is an immensely skilled beast and went on to finish Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman to become the champion.
The Defining Moment
A humbled Bisping was (of course) not down hearted while Rockhold went on to pursue the Middleweight title. He collected two wins himself which led him into the path of one of the greatest fighters of all time: Anderson Silva. Bisping scraped a decision win in an epic fight. This was a war with a moment symbolic of his career; at the end of the third round, Bisping dropped his mouthpiece and while distracted Silva caught him with a spectacular flying knee flush on the jaw folding him onto the canvas. The blow landed right on the buzzer and while Silva was cancelling his premature celebrations a wobbly and confused Bisping slowly got to his feet and gathered himself for the next round. On the brink of losing consciousness and losing the fight, Bisping somehow completed one of his best performances inside the octagon.
The heart he displayed pulling off a win against who he perceived as the greatest fighter of all time was the pivotal moment in his journey to the title. For Bisping’s entire UFC career, Silva sat on top of the Middleweight pile, slaying contender after contender. He seemed utterly unbeatable up until 2013, when Chris Weidman pulled off a shocking upset. To beat the greatest of all time fuelled his belief that he has what it takes to finally hold a UFC belt.
Reflecting on this fight:
Bisping: ‘For me, beating Anderson Silva - I achieved a lifetime goal. That is something that was a personal goal. I always talked about fighting Anderson, I always knew I could beat him. I am glad that I lost my mouthpiece, I am glad I got kneed in the face and my face was destroyed because it made the whole occasion even more epic... that for me solidifies my career’
The Lucky Break
The rematch between Rockhold and Weidman for the title was scheduled for UFC 199 on 4th June 2016. However just 21 days out, Weidman withdrew due to injury. Unfortunately for Bisping, the number two ranked Ronaldo Souza was selected as Weidman’s replacement. A gutted Bisping went back to enjoying his time off with a sufficient amount of food and wine. However, the lucky break came when Souza could not accept the fight due to a knee injury. Bisping got a call saying Dana White (UFC president) had just announced that he will be fighting for the belt. He had just two weeks to lose 27 lbs and prepare for his first title fight as a replacement. The circumstances were not ideal but this was the opportunity he had been waiting for his entire career
The Crowning Moment
Leading up to the fight, nobody backed Bisping. No one believed in him. He was an overwhelming underdog. Still, he possessed the confidence to dethrone the man who had dominated him in their first bout. Three minutes into the first round and history was written: a left hook landed on the button, sending Rockhold to the canvas. Rockhold stumbled back up to his feet only to be greeted by another composed left hook from Bisping. Follow up blows sealed the finish. An outpouring of emotion from the Brit and his team ensued as the dream had been achieved.
As shocking as this finish was, it was no fluke and was exactly what him and coach Jason Parillo had worked on in training.
Bisping: “He (Parillo) called it. He said; the left hook is going to be there – you dropped Anderson with it. He said you are going to connect with Rockhold, Rockhold drops his right hand, he carries his chin high.”
Champions and top contenders are separated not by talent but by mental strength and work ethic. The proud family man from a humble background has this in abundance and his journey to the title is an inspiration to anyone. He took the long road to the title and fought a who’s who of legendary fighters. Fighters in their prime but also fighters aided by illegal performance enhancing substances. He has practically fought with one eye since getting head kicked into oblivion by a Vitor Belfort that was juiced to the gills but battling through injuries he has overcome crushing losses with brilliant wins. He has brought much needed entertainment and captivating rivalries to the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight division for over a decade. He started the journey broke and sleeping in his car but has shown the implications of never giving up. Full of character, skill and heart, Bisping has played his part in the growth of the UFC and is a pioneer of MMA in the UK. He is a true champion.
So what’s next for Bisping?
On the 8th October Bisping will defend his belt against his old foe Dan Henderson in a glamour match. The legend, Henderson has jumped the queue for a chance to win the Middleweight championship in which if he wins – will surely be his last fight and the perfect ending to a glittering career. For Bisping this is the start of his new journey as a champion as well as his chance of redemption.