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After a decade-long career filled with injuries and missed opportunities, 37-year-old UFC middleweight Michael Bisping finally got his due, and he plans to go out swinging.
That was all UFC color commentator Joe Rogan could muster after witnessing Michael Bisping connect a solid left hook that sent UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold to the canvas in June at UFC 199. Bisping, given just 17 days to prepare for the title fight, was a heavy underdog—an all-too-familiar spot for “the Count.”
For years, Bisping had UFC gold in his sights, but it was always out of reach. But his spectacular upset over Rockhold finally delivered him the first title of his roller-coaster UFC career.
Since Bisping became the champ, his schedule has ramped up significantly, and the countless media appearances have chipped away at his patience “It’s been interview after interview after interview,” he says during yet another interview. “I’m just at my wit’s end with it all.” To make matters worse, he’s taken our call on an empty stomach. “Listen, mate, I’ve had a hell of a day,” Bisping says. “I’ve got a sandwich in front of me, and I’m dying to eat it.”
Born on a British military base in Nicosia, Cyprus, and raised in Manchester, England, Bisping enrolled in his first Brazilian jiujitsu class when he was 8 years old. He continued to train and even dabbled in “no holds barred” fights as an adolescent. In 2006, Bisping found his way into the big leagues after being cast on Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV series. The 6’1″, 185-pound Brit ripped through his opponents and finished out the season with a TKO against Josh Haynes—Bisping’s first official UFC win. Clearly, the newcomer’s career was on the upswing, but his road to the gold would be lined with plenty of bumps and lots of bruises.
The lowest point in Bisping’s career arguably may have occurred at UFC 100 in 2009 when Dan Henderson delivered a vicious overhand right that knocked Bisping out cold in the second round. Adding insult to actual injury, Henderson followed up with a flying forearm to Bisping’s face while he was supine on the canvas, incapable of defending himself. It was the Count’s first loss by KO.
Four years later, Bisping had a major setback at UFC on FX 7 when Vitor Belfort delivered a brutal head kick that did more than knock him out—it detached his retina. After two eye surgeries (the retina is now held together by a silicone band) and a year off, Bisping returned to the Octagon. However, two additional key losses in 2014 caused Bisping’s relevance as a top-tier fighter to wane significantly.
“I’d be lying if I said that I thought I’d never get my title shot,” he admits. “But I never gave up hope. I always believed in myself. I always knew I could achieve it.”
Last February things started to take a turn for the better for Bisping when he was awarded a decision over Anderson Silva, once MMA’s all-time best pound-for- pound fighter. The win over Silva and an injury to Chris Weidman just over two weeks before UFC 199 opened the door for Bisping to take on Rockhold for the title.
Two years earlier, Rockhold beat Bisping via submission, and oddsmakers had the Count’s chances at 10–1 for the rematch. Neither the short notice nor the unfavorable odds alarmed the challenger, but making weight did. Between filming xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (set for release in January 2017), starring Vin Diesel, and living it up in Hollywood, Bisping was 27 pounds over his fighting weight.
“He hops on the scale, and he’s 212,” recalls Scot Prohaska, Bisping’s strength and conditioning coach of five years. “I told him, ‘Do not lift weights; go for a run right now; I’ll make this happen.’ The goal was to slash his weight while increasing endurance and retaining strength.”
Team Bisping spent the next two weeks focused on endurance- based exercises using bands and medicine balls. When Bisping’s weight plateaued, Prohaska added more cardio. “He was 199 [pounds] going into the week of the fight,” Prohaska says. “We had to pull 12 to 13 pounds off him in three days, just the water weight. It was fairly easy. He was surprised at how easy it was.”
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At the weigh-in, Bisping tipped the scales at 185 pounds. And in Round 1 of the fight, he delivered an unforgettable upset over Rockhold and backed up the subsequent two weeks of trash talk leading up to the brawl.
“I’m 37, and I can’t fight forever, of course,” Bisping realizes. “Maybe I’ll do three title defenses and retire as champion.” Between his next fight with Henderson, which is reportedly planned for later this year, and his eventual retirement, Bisping has plenty of other projects to take up more of his already busy schedule.
He’s currently a part-time MMA analyst for Fox Sports and plans to open a UFC gym. There’s also his acting career. In addition to xXx, Bisping is making an appearance in the forthcoming Twin Peaks reboot and is starring in My Name is Lenny, about Britain’s most notorious bare-knuckle fighters. Seems like he’ll be fine when he hangs up his gloves.
But for now, Bisping doesn’t want to think about this or talk about it—the champ just wants to eat
Perform 5 sets and 8 reps per exercise in succession. Complete five rounds. Rest one minute between rounds.
A look at the highs, lows, and important dates of Bisping’s career.
Apr. 6, 2006: Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter premieres. Bisping wins all of his fights and secures a UFC contract.
Apr. 19, 2008: After his first pro loss to Rashad Evans in ’07, Bisping drops from light-heavyweight to middleweight and defeats Charles McCarthy at UFC 83.
Jul. 11, 2009: Bisping suffers the first KO of his career from Dan Henderson. “That knockout…will be on highlight reels until the end of humanity,” according to Joe Rogan.
Sept. 21, 2011: The student became the teacher, as Bisping is hired to coach up-and-comers on TUF’s 14th season.
Sept. 27, 2013: Two eye surgeries to repair a detached retina force Bisping to the sidelines for a year.
Nov. 8, 2014: Luke Rockhold defeats Bisping via submission at UFC Fight Night; the Count closes out the year with a 1–2 record.
Dec. 17, 2015: Bisping starts filming for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage but remains focused on his day job. “It was a healthy distraction. I was taking care of myself to look good for the movie.”
Jun. 4, 2016: Bisping defeats Rockhold, becoming the first British UFC champion. It’s not his only UFC first: He’s also the first Brit to win TUF and headline a PPV event. “I made history… and that can never be taken away from me.”