Michael Bisping

He was (and still is) the face of British MMA and loved by fans on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Always joking, yet deadly serious when in the Octagon, Michael Bisping had an eventful year in 2007/2008, one the fans decided was enough to place him at the forefront of European fighters. FO caught up with him for the January 2009 issue and found a man still in the early stages of his UFC Hall of Fame career.

Fresh from his decisive win over Chris Leben, Bisping’s currently enjoying the beginning of a lengthy break from active competition. The Lancashire resident won’t step back into the cage until next summer at the earliest, though he will perform coaching duties on the ninth series of the show that gave him his big break, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). “Probably June, July, maybe even August next year! It’s a long layoff,” he said. “I’ve had a busy year, a lot of dieting and stuff. I’ve been eating lots of crap [since the fight]. God bless my girlfriend, she’s been baking quite a lot!”

Firmly in post-fight chill-out mode, Bisping admits he’s had an easy couple of weeks since his fight in October (his fifth outing in 13 months), but won’t rest too long as he’ll be one of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson’s training partners for the former light heavyweight champion’s fight with Wanderlei Silva in December. “I like to fight, I like to stay busy,” he says. “It’s good Rampage has come now as it gets me in the gym, back into the routine. It gives me time to work on some things.”

We witnessed a change in Bisping during 2007 and 2008. Dropping from light heavyweight to middleweight following his razor-thin split decision loss to Rashad Evans, Bisping has looked phenomenal since, but by his own admission has plenty of room for improvement. “You’ve got to keep progressing and keep learning. I’ve said it a million times, I’m far from the finished product. There is a lot of stuff I need to get better at – everything!

“I’m going to be in Vegas for about eight weeks, I’ll be doing a lot of wrestling out there, a lot of jiu-jitsu, try to take everything to that next level. There are a lot of good people out there. I’ve been invited up to the wrestling team at Ohio State; I might go up there. I wouldn’t mind doing another trip out to Thailand. Brazil too – I’ve got a lot of time on my hands, you know?”

With such a hectic year behind him, the break has come at just the right time, but there won’t be any lying around on the couch while he’s off. Aside from helping his teammates at the Wolfslair MMA Academy prepare for their fights, he’ll be using this time to make the adjustments necessary for the future.

“I’m looking forward to the break, it does me good, but it keeps me in check and on the straight and narrow when I’ve got a fight.

I’ll enjoy not having to get up at the crack of dawn for runs, and living off grilled chicken and salads. I’ve had enough of that to last me a lifetime this last year!

“I’ll still be in the gym, working my strength training now I’m not working so much conditioning. You can’t build on your strength when you’re keeping your cardio at a high level. Now I can slow it down on the cardio side of things and work on the strength. It’s hard to make gains when you’re in the gym four hours a day and dieting.”

Big on the horizon though is Bisping’s upcoming tenure as a coach for TUF 9, which will feature light and welterweight fighters from the UK battling rivals from the US. The show was responsible for catapulting Bisping into the public consciousness back in 2006. He’s proved since then that he’s not just an opportunist who struck lucky, but a legitimate threat to anyone he faces, something noted by fans and observers alike.

Still, for all his support, Bisping has his fair share of opposition too, less doubters and more haters. “Yeah, I wonder why?” he laughs. “It’s hard. It bothered me at first, now it just makes me laugh, it really does, I just laugh it off. If you took everything seriously, you’d slash your bloody wrists!”

On the flip side, his success since graduating from TUF has won him an army of fans, and things show no sign of slowing down just yet. “It’s great, still,” he says. “It’s been going on since 2006, two and a half years now, and it still blows my mind, it’s crazy. I think, why the hell does somebody want an autograph off me? I think they’re just being polite, and they’ll throw it in the bin when they get home.” He laughs as he ask himself, “Who wants a piece of paper with my signature on it?”

The victories and the fight purses aside, the recognition is and always will be a factor for Bisping, and makes the hard work all the more worthwhile. “It’s nice to be recognised for the hard work you put in and your achievements.” He holds up the award, a smile across his face. “Which brings me to this!”

Always grateful of his fans’ support, Bisping was quick to show his appreciation to those that voted for him. “If it was just a couple of guys who had got together and said ‘Let’s give to whoever’, well… When people have voted, it means a lot!”

Asked whether he sees himself picking up any awards in next year’s World MMA Awards, he ponders for a moment before answering. “I don’t know, I’d like to! Quite possibly, I think – it all depends on what happens at the end of the show [TUF9]. If I win that, which I’m obviously planning on doing, then maybe I’ll be in people’s faces a bit!”

Bisping’s Best of 2007 and 2008

vs. Rashad Evans, November 2007

With both Bisping and Evans winners of The Ultimate Fighter (Evans walked away winner of series 2, while Bisping won series 3), they squared off with both their undefeated records on the line. It was Evans who walked away with his intact, though the decision was as close as you could imagine. The fight is still a hotly debated topic, with fans and pundits split over who deserved the win. The loss prompted Bisping to drop to 185lb, which many see as the turning point in his career.

vs. Charles McCarthy, February 2008

His first fight at middleweight, expectations were high for Bisping going into this contest. As if the pressure wasn’t enough, he would be fighting in front of close to 20,000 people in Montreal. Armed with a new physique and a speed and level of conditioning that McCarthy simply couldn’t handle, Bisping blew through the American with a first-round stoppage and firmly set his stall out as a middleweight hopeful.

vs. Jason Day, June 2008

Back in front of a London crowd Bisping’s energy and focus looked sharper than ever, and he easily despatched the capable Canadian inside the first round with ground ‘n pound. Relentless in his attack, Bisping’s second victory at 185lb elevated him in fans’ eyes and contributed to him winning European Fighter of the Year.

Originally published in Issue 45 of Fighters Only magazine.