NEWARK — He’s back. After an absence of nearly a year and a half.
True, Michael Bisping competed in the UFC as recently as January, but that wasn’t the real Bisping. And I say that not because he was knocked out by a Vitor Belfort head kick. He fared much better in the fight before that, a decision victory over Brian Stann last September, and performed admirably even in a loss to Chael Sonnen eight months earlier.
But the Bisping in those bouts — or, more precisely, in the leadup to those bouts — was a gentleman, an agreeable sort. He talked about his dedication and preparation and blah blah blah. It was not the Bisping we’d come to know and love. Or hate. Not the Bisping who spewed insults in the face of Jason Miller right up until the night in December 2011 when he made “Mayhem” his fourth straight conquest. Would we ever again see that angry guy from so many past fights?
Finally, we are. On Saturday night, in the co-main event of UFC 159 at the Prudential Center (10 p.m. ET, PPV), Bisping takes on Alan Belcher. The buildup has been rancorous, jump-started not by the Brit but his opponent. Though typically not a guy who says much to stir things up before a fight, Belcher got under Bisping’s skin by posting on the Internet a video of Michael’s most humiliating moment, a 2009 knockout loss to Dan Henderson. Belcher’s face had been added to the video, and he was laughing.
“That really upset me, a fighter standing there laughing at a fellow fighter getting knocked out,” Bisping told SI.com. “When I watch a fight, I always admire the skill and technique it takes to deliver a knockout blow. But I don’t take pleasure from seeing a fellow fighter on the floor, unconscious. I don’t like that. So for him to be laughing at somebody getting knocked out, I just thought, ‘What the hell? What is going on with this guy?’ I’m going to teach him a lesson.”
As Bisping spoke, he wore the look of someone who clearly wished he didn’t have to wait until late on Saturday night for the fierce schooling. “I’d like to beat him up [now],” he said. “But I can’t do that, because it’s the year 2013 and you get arrested. … Maybe in the ’60s you could go around and chin someone now and again. Now it’s frowned upon.” Except inside the octagon, that is. “Saturday night,” Bisping acknowledged with a gleam in his eye, “I get paid to do that.”
Now, if a silly video can get a guy this worked up, you might come to the conclusion that Michael Bisping actually looks for reasons to dislike an opponent. He smiled at the suggestion. “Sometimes I do make things bigger in my own head,” he said, “and cling onto it.” Why? “Because I fight better when I’m angry. Some people lose focus when they’re pissed off, but when I get more aggressive it’s controlled aggression. It makes me a better fighter, like I was when I started in this sport.”
At age 34, having twice climbed within grasp of a title shot but slipped up just before he could grab the golden ring, Bisping is looking for any means to maintain — or recapture — the drive that got him where he is. In today’s UFC, with the fighter roster shrinking by the minute, even a prominent figure like the 23-5 Bisping thinks about job security. “This means everything to me,” he said. “This is all I’ve got. I have three beautiful children and a beautiful fiancé, yes, but in terms of what I do with my life, this is it. This is who I am. This defines me. And what keeps me hungry, keeps me grounded, is the understanding that nobody’s indispensible. The UFC builds stars, and if they wanted to build another Michael Bisping, I’m sure they could. I’m under no illusion that I’m a one-off. I’m just an average working-class guy, and there are plenty out there like me.”
He then paused for a moment and reconsidered. “Actually, there’s only one Michael Bisping,” he said with a wide grin. “That was bull— what I just said.”