If Michael Bisping had been someone else, November might’ve been the month from hell. It would have been the month during which he lost his UFC middleweight championship, the month during which he was choked out inside three rounds by Georges St-Pierre, a former welterweight champion he had accused of being a blown-up, out of shape, midget impregnated by aliens. If Michael Bisping wasn’t Michael Bisping, it might be tough to come back from that. Tough to show his face. Tough to move on.
But Michael Bisping is nothing if not resilient and hard-nosed. Seemingly predisposed to a comeback, he is someone who always tends to follow crushing victory with some form of redemption, a victory, and this month could prove no different.
After all, on Saturday, November 25, just three weeks after losing to GSP, the 38-year-old Englishman sets foot inside the Octagon once again, this time in a non-title fight in China against Kelvin Gastelum, another former welterweight.
A win won’t give Bisping his belt back, no, but it will confirm, once and for all, that nobody handles defeat quite like ‘The Count’. It will also vindicate his decision to fight again so soon after setback and go some way to completing the astonishing turnaround – brash, obnoxious British heel to respected, underrated and unlikely champion – he has managed to construct in the latter stages of his illustrious MMA career.
“There’s been a lot of positive things said and written and I appreciate all of that,” he said. “It certainly makes a nice change from people talking s**t. But I’m doing this for myself. Yes, it’s great, I’m helping the UFC out of a hard position, but I’m doing this for me. I don’t fight for anybody else. I’m doing it for me and my family: my wife and children. Of course, Kelvin needed an opponent, but I’d be lying if I said I’m doing this for Kelvin.”
He isn’t fighting for you or for me, nor for his opponent. He isn’t even necessarily fighting for his promotion. Michael Bisping, we can all agree, owes nobody anything at this stage. He’s fought 28 times since joining the UFC in 2006 and has, for the best part of a decade, almost singlehandedly kept MMA alive in Great Britain.
What drives Bisping now, then, rather than pleasing others, is the feeling he deserves something back, something in return for all the concussions and the eye injuries and the bloody noses and the cauliflower ears. While the going’s good, he’s going to get some of it, and there can hardly be a fighter more deserving.
“This opportunity kind of came out the blue,” he said. “I was driving down the street, going to market with my wife and my in-laws and I heard it on the radio and text Dana (White, UFC President) straight away, and then the fight happened. So, there was no real design, there was no conscious effort, there was no sitting down with my management team and trying figure out how this could define my legacy. It was just some people play the piano and some people fight. I like to fight. Simple as that. I haven’t got the belt anymore so f**k it, let’s fight.”
It’s not just any old fight, either. In some respects, Gastelum, having been preparing to face Anderson Silva for months on end, could be deemed every bit as dangerous as Georges St-Pierre, albeit in very different ways. He’s young at 26, he’s full of potential and ability. He’s also coming off a submission defeat to Chris Weidman and is therefore desperate, like Bisping, to get back in the win column.
For Bisping, a man 12 years Gastelum’s senior, this all amounts to a headache. It’s no gimme, no tune-up, no fight thrown to him in order for him to look good or regain some lost confidence. Instead, he’s going straight back in at the deep end. And he knows it, too.
“Obviously I’m a fan of the UFC, I watch all the fights and I work as an analyst as well so, I keep an eye on things and Kelvin’s someone that I’ve seen,” he said. “He won The Ultimate Fighter and he’s doing great things and of course he struggled making weight in welterweight. He came to middleweight and he looked even better. He’s made short work of some opponents that have given me trouble in the past.
“I guess I’ll have a size advantage. I don’t know about power. Just because you’re a bit bigger doesn’t mean you’re necessarily stronger or more powerful. Any strength or conditioning coach or any athlete will tell you that. I’ll definitely be bigger, with a longer reach. I’m taller. Kelvin’s going to definitely be a bit stockier. It’s swings and roundabouts. I’m not really looking at it like that. I’m not trying to sound like a tough guy, but I couldn’t care less if he was 6’5 or 5’5. It doesn’t matter. Will he be more powerful? Who knows? I guess we’re going to find out.”
“I just want to get back in there ASAP and this came-up with Kelvin out of the blue. So here we are.”
For a man who has been fighting in the UFC for over a decade, this is nothing new. (Kelvin Gastelum was 14 years of age when Michael Bisping won season three of The Ultimate Fighter.)