On a Tuesday afternoon, nearing the end of acting duties for action film franchise XXX: The Return of Xander Cage in Toronto, Michael Bisping walked through a mall looking for gifts to bring to his family back home in America in Orange County, California.
“The Count” received a text from MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani inquiring whether or not he was in shape. Alarm bells went off in Bisping’s head. The middleweight title fight at UFC 199 between champion Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman was missing a piece and needed a contender to make it whole again. Bisping has aspired to UFC gold for the last decade. He immediately reached out to UFC brass, stating his case to replace Weidman, who exited the bout with a neck injury.
UFC President Dana White replied to Bisping with a simple "love you bro" before sending a picture of UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta with a thumbs up and smiley face. It’s not what Bisping expected. He thought Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza would get the nod, although he directed an expletive toward the Brazilian for the UFC to consider. Bisping might actually be fighting for the title. Like a headless chicken, he started running around waiting for confirmation, even though the UFC communicated Jacare was ahead of him. He went on a long run that night.
The next day, he went to dinner with friends from the set of the movie. Ariel Helwani hit his phone again, informing Bisping White just announced Bisping was filling in at UFC 199 and fighting for the UFC middleweight championship. Confirmed, Bisping hit the road with less than three weeks notice to the main event at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
“I go for a run. I start running through traffic in Toronto,” Bisping said on the May 19 edition of his radio show, The Countdown, on SiriusXM Rush 93. “I’m running like a mad man with a backpack on. I start thinking, shit, I got to lose weight. I got to get in shape. All these mixed emotions, thinking is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? Of course it’s great that I’ve got a title fight, but I’ve wanted it my whole career and now it’s here on two weeks notice … I was all over the place.”
Bisping couldn’t go home and begin camp immediately. He saw through his movie obligation to the end of the week. He had been eating well, running, lifting weights, even doing some pad work on set, but nothing that constitutes a real training camp. A frantic call from his coach, Jason Parillo, calmed him down. There’s no pressure on Bisping’s side because he has everything to gain and little or nothing to lose. He was eased his weight was better than he thought it’d be, enough to be on target for the weigh-in scale. All those factors coupled with the fact a title shot is often -- especially for a decade-long UFC veteran -- a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It added up to Bisping saying, “’Well, screw it.’”
The silver linings started to illuminate from there. Bisping is prone to over analyzing his preparation and over training too, adding up to mental setbacks or physical injuries that can pollute fight night.
“I’m not going to have time to screw with myself mentally,” Bisping said. “All the pressure is on Luke Rockhold. I’m just going to go in there and fight the way I used to fight at the start of my career, swing for the fences.”
Bisping leaned on the fact Rockhold was knocked out by Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut. Rockhold is human and “felt weak as piss” when he fought Bisping in their first fight in November 2014. Bisping tapped out to a guillotine early in Round 2, but a prior head butt may have influenced the fight’s outcome. He feels he got the best of a long-ago sparring session. These are the notions Bisping is stacking up to find favor against Rockhold at UFC 199.
“I’ve worked since I was eight years old to this moment,” Bisping said. Reiterating he’s going to his roots as a “wildman,” attacking the chin for a knockout, he promised, “I will connect.”
Bisping is on a three-fight win streak coming off the signature win of his 24 UFC appearances -- a five-round decision against former Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva in London in February. Bisping declared the training and confidence from that victory applies to the Rockhold rematch.
“I just fought Anderson Silva. That’s the perfect warm-up to fight Luke Rockhold,” the Brit said. “He’s a tall, skinny, rangy kickboxing southpaw. The same as Luke Rockhold.”
Bisping conceded Rockhold is probably better on the ground than Silva, but that won’t be a factor because it’ll be a prideful stand-up match. He doesn’t believe Rockhold can take him down and he won’t be shooting for any takedowns of his own. It’s stand-up or bust.
“Listen, let’s be honest, I know that’s my only chance,” The Ultimate Fighter Season 3 winner said. “I ain’t going to stand back and play pitter patter and try to exchange blows. I got to go forward, I got to close the distance, I have to minimize his reach and I have to look to hurt him.”
The key difference between the first fight and the second fight is something Bisping has zeroed in on ahead of the opportunity of his fighting lifetime. He’s quelled his emotions when it comes to the fight. That maturity was not there before.
“I’m 37 years old. I’ve been a professional fighter forever. Finally now I’m figuring this out,” Bisping said on the May 26 edition of The Countdown on SiriusXM Rush 93. “That’s why I had such a good performance against [Silva]. That’s why this performance against Rockhold will be better than the last one.”
The crucial mistake that resulted in Bisping tapping out to Rockhold has been identified. He was moving in and out of range against the taller opponent, so when he was out Rockhold could hit him but he couldn’t return fire. He can’t afford to repeat that mistake. What drives Bisping is Rockhold can have that win but not the next one.
“I’m going to close the distance and stay there,” Bisping said. “If I keep in the pocket, it takes away his range.”
In a sport where wins and losses come and go, it would complete Bisping’s workmanlike, long-shot story if he wins the one that matters against Rockhold -- the fight that’d crown Bisping UFC middleweight champion.