Few fighters know about the electric atmosphere of London’s O2 Arena like Michael Bisping. “The Count” fought there four times under the UFC banner, and, speaking to Simon Head, he said that the fighters set to make their first walk in the famous venue are set for an unforgettable experience.
“They have no idea what they’re in store for, you know?” Bisping told us ahead of fight night in London.
“When you go from fighting on these regional shows – and I say that with respect because they’re absolutely an integral part of mixed martial arts – but you’re going from like a sports hall or something like that with maybe a few hundred people, maybe 1,000, 1,500, to 20,000 in The O2 Arena.
“When you walk out there in The O2, and the kind of energy that the British fans always show to their home fighters… The Brits, they’re always so loud and proud and they’re here for a good time. It’s not often the UFC comes here live. When those fighters walk out there, it’s gonna blow their minds.
“I always tell the story about UFC 70 (in Manchester), when I first experienced it. The adrenaline went to my mind and I sprinted to the Octagon like a maniac. So you’ve got to expect that, and you’ve got to control that energy and control the adrenaline. But also, soak it in and enjoy it. This is what it’s all about. These memories, these walks, they’re some of the highlights of your career. You never ever forget that – that’s the drug that keeps fighters returning to the ring when they retire.”
The main event will see Leon Edwards walk to the Octagon as only the second UFC champion from the UK. It’s a walk Bisping made back in 2016 at UFC 204, when he rematched old nemesis Dan Henderson in Manchester. It’s a moment to cherish for “Rocky,” but Bisping warned that the occasion also comes with some added stress.
“It’s a lot of pressure, as well,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure because you’re carrying, to a certain degree, the reputation of British mixed martial arts on your back. You’re the guy, you’re spearheading it. You’re the guy the event was built around. So there is a bit of pressure on your shoulders, and of course Kamaru Usman isn’t an easy fight. It’s a really, really difficult fight. But he should go into this very confident because last time – it doesn’t matter how it started, it’s about how it ends – it ended with Kamaru unconscious.”
That’s not to say Usman won’t be feeling additional pressure, too. “The Nigerian Nightmare” was a dominant champion at 170 pounds prior to being knocked out by Edwards at UFC 278. Now Usman has to pick himself back up and face the man who defeated him in order to return to the pinnacle of the sport again. That, along with the wear and tear of a career of top-tier fights, will bring its own challenges for the former champion.
“Kamaru isn’t getting any younger. His knees are bad. Last time he got knocked out unconscious. And I don’t think even Kamaru realizes the nerves and the pressure that he’s going to feel because you don’t until it’s time to make that walk,” Bisping explained.
“Because I thought I was fine (after my knockout loss at UFC 100). It was a long time ago, and Henderson wasn’t my next fight (after the KO). I’d been in there many times before I rematched Henderson. But it wasn’t until it was a few hours before that the nerves and the anxiety really started to kick in. Then I was angry. Pardon my language, but I was being a d**k with everyone. And I didn’t realize it was the nerves. It was the pressure.
“The last time I stepped foot in the Octagon with this man, I got knocked out unconscious, and the whole world saw it and they all laughed at me. So it’s a tremendous amount of pressure, and that’s what Kamaru, even though he doesn’t realize it, he is going to feel that.”
Like Usman, Bisping has suffered the ignominy of a high-profile knockout and, while many in the lead-up to fight night in London have suggested that Usman may not be the same fighter as a result of his KO loss to Edwards at UFC 278, Bisping offered an alternative take, based on his own experience of being knocked out by Dan Henderson at UFC 100.
“Well, it made me a better fighter,” he stated. “One hundred percent it did, because you learn from your mistakes. I know it sounds like such a cliche, but you learn from your losses, but you really do.
“If you’re a decent fighter with a decent intellect, you look at the reasons why you lost and you try and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. You don’t want to make a habit of losing, you know? So for me, yeah, it drilled home some valuable lessons.
“To Kamaru, again, you know, he made some mistakes. His hand placement, he fell for feints. Strategically, he’s got to do some different things. He can’t hang around in the kickboxing zone with Leon Edwards, because he’s not as good. Yes, he’s got big power and he’s got decent hands – he was the champion of the world. But what makes Kamaru such a great fighter is that he can mix it up and do it so well. He can go from the wrestling to the boxing seamlessly – he’s one of the best at doing that.”
“If it’s a kickboxing match, that’s Leon’s world all day. He’s way faster, he’s way better and way more technical. So I think that drills home to Kamaru what to do, and what not to do. And that’s what makes it an even tougher fight for Leon this time.”
And while Bisping is looking forward to savoring that famous atmosphere from his commentary position at The O2 Arena, he did reveal one athlete in particular that he’s looking forward to watching live and in person for the very first time.
“Christian Leroy Duncan. I’ve been paying attention to him while doing my research for his fight,” he said.
“I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t that familiar with him. I live out in the States and I’m just so heavy on UFC, I don’t have much time for the region scene. But man, what a talent he is.
“I’ve really paid attention to some of his fights. He’s very explosive. Of course, he’s a protege of Mark Weir, “The Wizard,” a true legend of British mixed martial arts. He doesn’t get enough recognition, you know? He had the fastest knockout in UFC history at one point, and you can see the influence in Christian. Tremendous taekwondo, flying knees. Yeah, he’s definitely one to watch.”