April 14, 2014, QUEBEC CITY, Que. (ISN) – Trying to explain just how long fighting has been part of his life, English middleweight Michael Bisping paused a story about playground tussles as he spotted a very short man nearby.
“I love being a fighter, I do. Rightly or wrongly,” he said. “Ever since I was the same height as that guy.”
Bisping (25-5) giggled as he savoured the political incorrectness.
“I was going to say ever since I was this big,” he said holding his hand down by his knee. “Then I saw him. He’s a friend of mine, by the way. That’s Mick.”
Little Mick is indeed a Bisping family friend. And chances are he’s heard plenty worse from the fifth-ranked UFC middleweight in the world.
As he gears up for his 20th fight in the UFC— against former Green Beret Tim Kennedy in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter Nations televised card Wednesday — the charismatic Bisping is a veteran when it comes to stirring the pot. These days, his opponents often do it for him.
The 35-year-old Bisping has become somewhat of a closer when it comes to trash talk. His opponents, knowing the brash Brit will take the bait, look to antagonize Bisping to raise the profile of the fight.
Conflict sells tickets, especially on a crowded UFC calendar. In April alone, the UFC has shows in Abu Dhabi, Quebec City, Orlando and Baltimore.
The UFC, in its first foray to the Quebec capital, expects a crowd between 5,000 to 10,000 in the lower bowl of the Colisee Pepsi. While the timing of the TUF Nations show meant some local fighters were not announced until recently, Bisping has done his bit to sell the show.
On Monday, Bisping calmly did media interviews in a downtown hotel before being summoned by Tom Wright, managing director of UFC operations for Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to pose for a photo with Kennedy.
Bisping instantly switched to sandpaper mode, placing his nose on Kennedy’s, wagging his finger as he read his somewhat bemused opponent the riot act. Other than a stream of F-bombs, it was hard to hear what was being said in the one-way conversation.
Asked later, Bisping offered a clean version.
“He’s talked so much for so long. And I’m not interested in getting a war on words on Twitter. I’ll say what I have to say to his face. And I just told him, I said ‘Listen, I’m going to knock that stupid look off your face. You’re going to live to regret every word you’ve said about me, every video, every picture that you’ve Photoshopped. Everything that you’ve done to mock me, you’re going to pay (for), you’re going to eat your words and you’re going to wish that you never heard of Michael Bisping.'”
More classic Bisping.
He has, of course, used social media himself in the war of words. Tweeting “Can’t wait to get my hands on that little dork Kennedy” hardly rates as taking the high road.
The same conflict that sells tickets motivates Bisping. The Brit does his best work when he walks into the Octagon with a burr under his saddle.
Kennedy (17-4) has been happy to oblige, accusing him of dirty tactics.
“He’s going to try to grab my shorts, he’s going to try to grab the cage, he’s going to try to poke me in the eye,” said the 34-year-old Texan, who is ranked No. 8 among middleweight contenders. “When he gets tired, he’s going to try to kick me in the groin. I know this and I’m ready for it in my head and I don’t care. He kicks me in the groin, I’m going to hit him in the face. I’ll trade you. I’m wearing a cup. You can kick me in the groin again and I’ll hit you in the face and see who wins.
“Hopefully the referee will be very strong and have a good presence, but I’m aware that he’s going to try these things.”
That prompted Bisping to brand Kennedy a liar, idiot and narcissist.
“I’ve had one point deducted in my entire career,” Bisping told a public workout Sunday. “And I don’t know how he says I’m a dirty fighter.”
Speaking moments later to a reporter, he had a slightly different view of Kennedy.
“I should thank him really, because he’s done all these things,” Bisping said cheerfully. “And if he hadn’t had done them, it wouldn’t have had the attention it had, it might not be main event.
“Really in some ways I should thank him. And of course, it’s motivated me as well.”
Bisping has history with Ranger Up, a military-themed clothing company that Kennedy owns a piece of. The company sponsored Jorge Rivera, who lost to Bisping at UFC 127 in a bitter bout that saw the Rivera camp get under Bisping’s skin big-time.
Bisping was irate at what he saw as slurs on his fiancee. He beat Rivera, having a point deducted for an illegal knee to his opponent’s head en route to the win, and then spat on the canvas in front of the Rivera corner.
Winner of Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Bisping has won 14 of his 19 UFC fights. The losses have come to elite opponents — former champions or MMA icons in Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei (The Axe Murderer) Silva, Chael Sonnen and Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort.
Bisping is smart, mobile and has a good gas tank in the cage. He has also turned himself into a well-rounded fighter. He took Sonnen, a decorated wrestler, down in the third round of their bout while stopping three of Sonnen’s seven takedown attempts.
Kennedy may look to make fun of the Brit, but he respects his fighting skills.
“Look at the guys he’s beaten and the guys he’s lost (to),” Kennedy said. “Take all him talking out of the scenario, just look at what he’s done in the cage — he’s beaten really good guys and he’s lost to just the very best.”
Bisping has also been a loyal UFC employee, building the brand in Britain and fighting around the world.
Now making his home in California, he has made a good life for he and his family. But he has paid the price.
He was victim of a savage Henderson knockout at UFC 100. And he wonders whether a Belfort head kick in January 2013 triggered the serious eye issues that have plagued him since.
In a chilling story of medical self-denial, he started having vision issues after the Belfort loss — and did nothing.
“Everybody was saying you need to see the doctor, my family and friends, but I feared it was a detached retina so I kind of put it off,” he said.
He beat Alan (The Talent) Belcher in April 2013 before eventually giving in to the need for medical attention. His peripheral vision was shot.
“It came to a point where I could hardly see my hand in front of my face. And after the (Belcher) fight, I thought ‘Right, it’s time to see a doctor.’ And I went and saw them and they confirmed my fears, it was a detached retina. I went into surgery the next day.”
He has not fought since.
“Everything that could go wrong with an eye, I pretty much had it,” he said.
He had glaucoma, cataracts, and then the retina detached again, requiring more surgery. The UFC eventually ordered him to see an independent doctor before agreeing to give him another fight.
“I’ve been cleared medically,” he said. Still the vision out of the right eye “isn’t what it was.”
Bisping was on an assembly line making furniture back in 2003 when he decided he had to get out. Having taken martial arts since a kid, he looked to boxing.
“I thought I don’t know if I’ll ever be the champion of the world but I know I can be good enough to be a pro and at least make a bit of a living out of it,” he said in a 2008 interview with The Canadian Press. ”And that was a plan. Very quickly, that turned into mixed martial arts.”
Quitting his job on Jan. 4, 2004, he started commuting from his home in Clitheroe near Liverpool in northwestern England to spend the week training with an old coach in Nottingham. Money was so tight he sometimes slept in his car, a battered Volvo 440, returning home on the weekends to see his family and make some cash by DJ’ing.
He says he has never forgotten sleeping in that car.
“That’s what keeps me training so hard. It really does. I never take what I’ve got for granted. I know it can all be over, in the click of my fingers, especially with all the new talent, how the UFC is expanding so massively. I’m completely dispensable.”
He is already branching out, moonlighting as an MMA analyst for Fox as well as acting. He has small roles in the films “The Anomaly” and “Plastic,” both of which are due out this year.
Earlier this year, he spent a month in Thailand filing the TV show “Strikeback.”
“They’re only small parts and of course type-case, playing bad guys, Russian gangsters and Polish gangsters. Listen I’m never going to be treading the boards doing Shakespeare.”
But when it comes to talking up fights, Bisping gets top billing.
“He’s just such an abrasive, caustic personality. He’s so outspoken, he’s so rough. It just rubs a lot of people the wrong way,” said Kennedy, struggling to sum up his opponent’s many thorns.