Michael Bisping is MMA’s version of Rocky Balboa. From his rough beginnings in Northern England to a successful career as a professional fighter, Bisping’s journey to the top of the UFC is one full of hope, despair, and triumph. Now, the former Middleweight champion shares his remarkable story in Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story.
Directed by Michael Hamilton (I Am MLK Jr.), Bisping chronicles the life and decades-long career of the retired mixed martial artist known as “The Count.” The documentary showcases Bisping as a tough fighter from a young age, and that aggressiveness eventually led to a stint in prison. Thanks to the support of his family and wife, Rebecca, the outspoken personality made a name for himself in UFC as one of the toughest and most durable athletes in the sport.
For every triumph in his historic career, setbacks followed soon after including the loss of vision in his right eye. Despite his physical setbacks, the future Hall of Famer passed on early retirement to chase the dream of becoming the first British fighter to win a UFC championship. The documentary footage includes some of his legendary fights with iconic competitors like Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Luke Rockhold, Anderson Silva, and Georges St-Pierre. With the documentary set to release this month, Bisping sat down with Digital Trends to discuss his upbringing, initial rise in the sport, his life-threatening injuries, and historic championship victory.
Digital Trends: You have such an interesting career that spans a few decades. Was this documentary something you wanted to do from the start? Did the director (Michael Hamilton) reach out to you first?
Michael Bisping: Well, it’s not something that had occurred to me, to be honest. I’m friends with Yas Taalat and his partner, Gabriel Napora, from the production company Electric Panda in Canada. They came to me and said, “Listen, Michael, we have a budget for a documentary and we think that you will be the perfect guy. Your story is incredible, the many ups and downs, and we think it deserves to be told. We have another production company, Score G Productions. They are award-winning documentary makers and they’ll do a fantastic job.”
So we sat down and we talked about it. We had a couple of meetings about their vision, and how they would like to tell it. I am proud of the story and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I’m proud of how I was able to turn my life around. So I said, “Yup, 100%. Let’s do it.” We started filming in 2018. Now here we are four years later. It’s finally getting released, been a long time in the making, but I’m very, very proud of the finished product.
The beginning of the documentary emphasizes the early days of your life. What was the impact your family had on both your personal life and as well as your UFC career?
Well, growing up in the household I grew up in, I kind of got used to taking a few lumps. I’ll put it like that. But to be honest, they made me the man I am today. I love my mum and dad dearly. Of course, my family with my wife and my children were kind of the inspiration for me wanting to fight. I left school at 16, had a string of dead-end jobs, and wasn’t going anywhere, to be honest. I made some mistakes in my life and hit rock bottom. I ended up in bloody prison because I was just always getting into scraps as a young man. And you know, when my wife came to visit me while pregnant with our first child, I was like, wow, if this isn’t the catalyst to make a change in life, then I don’t know what will be.
So I did. I wanted to make something of myself, give them a better life. And you know, my fighting ability with my martial arts background made sense. But, the UFC wasn’t popular back then. We’re talking 2003 here. Nobody knew what it was. It was very much a niche sport. But for me, I rolled the dice. I was very lucky. My wife was very supportive the entire way. And if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
You finally get your shot in America with The Ultimate Fighter, which is marketed as a reality show with fighting in which the winner receives a UFC contract. Did you go into the show thinking not only do you have to win in the cage, but make a name for yourself outside the octagon?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t go in with that conscious idea. For anybody that hasn’t seen it, you can think of it like the reality show Big Brother. You all live in a house and have no contact with the outside world. It’s like that [Big Brother] except every week two people fight. The winner stays [and] the loser goes home. Then, of course, you have one [overall] winner. I went out to America, and for me, this was mind-blowing. I’ve never been to America in my life. It wasn’t that long ago, I was working minimum wage. Now here I am on a reality TV show in Las Vegas. My mindset was to go and win the show. Some people were there for a bit of TV time. Some people were there for the 15 minutes of fame. I was on a path to becoming a championship fighter, to give my family the best life possible.
This was just a stepping stone because the prize was a lucrative contract in the UFC. So that’s what I went for, and I worked my ass off and trained my ass off and fortunately was able to win the entire thing. That was my intro to the UFC. But in terms of my personality, I’ve always been kind of a happy-go-lucky [guy], bit of an idiot, bit of always fooling around, being silly, always got too much to say. I think that did me a lot of favors as well because, in the reality TV show, people got to see my personality and see that side of me.
In the film, Joe Rogan talks about how fighters face more of an emotional challenge after a big loss than a physical one. You’ve had to face a lot of adversity and roadblocks in your career, especially after the loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100. After that fight, did you ever say to yourself “Am I supposed to do this?” What did it take to come back and continue your career?
No, I didn’t have those thoughts at all. For me, it was literally “Let’s get right back on the horse. Let’s get back in the saddle and go again.” Of course, look at the reasons why you lost the fight and there were reasons: I was overtrained, I was malnourished, I was making some strategic errors in the fight. So I addressed those things as well. A lot of people thought, “He was never that good. He’s never going to make it. He’s not strong enough. He’s not fast enough, he’s just not skilled enough or whatever.” I wanted to prove all those people wrong, you know? And yes, I often had a chip on my shoulder from seeing all that negative press and seeing all the taunting from the public on social media and all the DM’s. I went to see the gifs of me getting knocked out all the time. That just fueled me even more.
It made me want to prove everybody wrong. I knew I could do it. I knew I was capable and with my wife behind me. I knew I could achieve it. That’s what you got to do. You can’t give up. You’re always going to run into obstacles and hurdles in life. Nothing’s going to go your way, and if anything is worth achieving, it’s probably not going to be easy either. That was my main thing. This was what I was good at and I wanted to prove to the world that I was good… I just want to take care of my family, not from my own ego standpoint, simply because this is it. This is the card I’ve been dealt in life. This is my skill, you know, so I ain’t stopping here just because I’ve had a couple of bad losses.
Your life changed after the Vitor Belfort fight in 2013, which resulted in a detached retina that led to numerous eye surgeries and vision loss. Besides that initial physical pain, what’s going through your mind at that point? Do you think your career is over because you can’t see out of your right eye anymore?
Yeah, of course. Well, I mean, I never saw out of that right eye again. [Pointing to right eye.] This is just a prosthetic lens. I could put that in and out, and it looks like a mess behind it. It was tough. It was dark days, you know what I mean? I’ve said this before, but this is the card I’ve been dealt in life. This is who I am, you know? I thought, “Right, well, I’m not going to give up, even though I only see in 2D now.” My depth perception is nonexistent and I can’t gauge distances itself from that.
I think I can still do this. I think I can still win the World Championship, and I’m going to bloody try while I’m back in my body. I’m not going to give up. I did what I had to do to be able to fight, and fortunately, it all paid off. It was a bit of a gamble, and a bit of a risk. Everyone said, “What happens if you lose your good eye? Are you going to go blind?” I did start to have issues with that good eye as well. That’s touched upon in the documentary, but [I have] no regrets whatsoever.
You finally get a chance at the title against a former opponent in Luke Rockhold but it’s on short notice. However, you overcome the odds once again and defeated Rockhold to become UFC’s Middleweight Champion. Can you put into words the emotion after winning that fight? Was it the validation of all the sacrifice you went through to get to that point?
That’s exactly what it was. When I won by knockout in the first round, I jumped on top of the octagon and I turned around and I screamed “F-you, Rockhold.” That wasn’t just to him. That was to the entire world that wrote me off for my entire career. Everyone said I wasn’t good enough. They said I will never be the champ and I don’t have what it takes. That obviously put a chip on my shoulder, made me want to prove everybody wrong. So that was directly to all those people.
After every loss, I saw it and I felt it. You know, like the journalists who didn’t want to speak to you anymore. They think you’re old news. They think you’re washed up. Then certainly, when you lose the vision in an eye, they say, “This guy? Who’s he kidding? He’s out of his mind. He’s never going to do it.” No one gives you the time of day. No one gave me a bloody chance other than my wife, my coaches, and the people closest to me. So yeah, I was fighting against my opponent, but also fighting against the world’s opinion as well so it felt good to prove everybody wrong. To actually finally do it, to become the champion, I guess, under the circumstances, it kind of made it even sweeter in some ways.
For non-MMA fans, how can this documentary be something of interest to them?
I think there are a lot of things they can pull from this. Number one, it’s just a very, very well-told story, so they’re going to enjoy the process of watching it. But I think, you know, it sends a good message of determination and not giving up and not accepting defeat at the first hurdle. And then sometimes just dealing with what, you know, life deals you sometimes. Just try to persevere and keep going and just know that no matter how hard or dark it seems, sometimes, you can get through this.
I had every obstacle you could ever bloody imagine as a fighter thrown my way. I had losses. I had knockouts. I had injuries. I had knee replacements. I lost the vision in my fucking eye and I continued going. I became the champion of the world, and I think a lot of people, in fact, I know a lot of people have drawn a lot of inspiration from it because of the tremendous amount of very nice DMs I on social media.
With the way it’s made, it’s not just all about mixed martial arts and [people saying] “Isn’t Michael Bisping great?” It goes deeper into some issues. Michael Jai White talks about the challenges of going through life as an alpha male. Joe Rogan talks about the losses and the psychological trauma that fighters go through. I think you can take a lot of what you see and it [the lessons that you see] crosses over to everyday life.
Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story is available on digital and on demand starting March 22.