Michael Bisping is the MMA version of Rocky Balboa. From his difficult beginnings in northern England to a successful career as a professional fighter, Bisping’s journey to the top of the UFC has been filled with hope, despair and triumph. Now, the former middleweight champ is sharing his awesome story in Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story.
Directed by Michael Hamilton (I’m MLK Jr.), Bisping It chronicles the life and decades long career of a retired mixed martial artist known as “The Count”. The documentary showcases Bisping as a tough fighter from a young age, and this aggressiveness eventually led to him serving a stint in prison. Thanks to the support of his family and wife, Rebecca, the outspoken personality has made a name for himself in the UFC as one of the strongest and most enduring athletes in the sport.
For every victory in his historic career, setbacks followed shortly after he lost sight in his right eye. Despite his physical setbacks, the future Hall of Famer retired early to chase the dream of becoming the first British fighter to win the UFC Championship. The documentary footage includes some of his legendary fights with notable competitors such as Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Luke Rockhold, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. With the documentary due to be released this month, Bisping sat down with Digital Trends to discuss his upbringing, his initial rise in the sport, his life-threatening injuries and his historic championship win.
Digital Trends: You have an interesting career that spans a few decades. Was this documentary something you wanted to do from the start? Did director Michael Hamilton contact you first?
Michael Bisping: Well, that wasn’t something that had ever happened to me, to be honest. I am a friend of Lias Talat and his partner, Gabriel Nabora, of 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 you’ll be the perfect guy. Your story is incredible, many twists, and we think it deserves to be told. We have another production company, Score G Productions. They are award-winning documentary filmmakers and they will They are doing an amazing job.”
So we sat down and talked about it. We’ve had a couple of meetings about their vision and how they’d like to tell it. I’m proud of the story and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I am proud of the way you have been able to change my life. So I said, “Yeah, 100%. Let’s do it.” We started shooting in 2018. Now here we are, four years later. It was finally released, it took a long time to prepare, but I am very proud of the final product.
The beginning of the documentary emphasizes the first days of your life. What is the impact of your family on your personal life as well as your career in Ultimate Fighting Championship?
Well, growing up in the house I grew up in, I kind of used to take some lumps. I will put it like this. But honestly, they made me the man I am today. I love my mom and dad very much. Of course, my family with my wife and children inspired me to want to fight. I dropped out of school at 16, had a series of dead ends, and hadn’t gone anywhere, to be honest. I’ve made some mistakes in my life and hit rock bottom. I ended up in a bloody prison because I was always getting into scraps when I was young. You know, when my wife came to visit me while I was pregnant with our first child, I was like, Wow, if that wasn’t the catalyst for making a life change, I don’t know what it would be.
So I did. I wanted to make something for myself, and give them a better life. As you know, my combat ability with my background in martial arts made sense. But the UFC was not popular at that time. We’re talking 2003 here. Nobody knows what it was. It was a very specialized sport. But for me, I rolled the dice. I was very lucky. My wife has been very supportive all the way. And if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have this conversation now.
You finally get the shot in America with The ultimate fighter Which is marketed as a reality show with a fight in which the winner gets a UFC contract. Did you go to the show thinking not only that you have to win the cage, but that you have to make a name for yourself outside of the octagon?
no I did not. I did not enter this conscious thought. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, you can think of it like a reality show Big brother. You all live in a house and have no contact with the outside world. It’s like this [Big Brother] Except every week two people fight. The winner remains [and] The loser goes home. Then, of course, you have one [overall] winner. I went to America, and for me, that was amazing. I have never been to America in my life. It wasn’t that long ago that I was working at minimum wage. Now here I am on a reality TV show in Las Vegas. My mentality was to go and win the show. Some people have been there for a while to watch TV. Some people have been there for 15 minutes of fame. I was on the path to becoming a championship fighter, to give my family the best life possible.
This was just a starting point because the award was a lucrative contract in the UFC. This is what I went for, worked my butt off and trained my butt and luckily managed to win it all. This was my introduction to the UFC. But in terms of my character, I’ve always been lucky [guy]A bit of an asshole, a bit of a mess always, being silly always has a lot to say. I think this made me so happy too because on the reality TV show, people get to see my personality and see that side of me.
In the film, Joe Rogan talks about how fighters are more emotionally challenged after a great loss than by a physical challenge. You’ve had to go through a lot of adversities and hurdles in your career, especially after losing to Dan Henderson at UFC 100. After that fight, have you ever said to yourself “Am I supposed to do this?” What did it take to get 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 too trained, I was malnourished, I was making some strategic mistakes in combat. So I ate these things too. A lot of people thought, “He’s never been this good. He’s never going to do that. He’s not strong enough. He’s not fast enough, he’s not skilled enough or whatever.” I wanted to prove all these people wrong, you know? And yes, I often had a chip on my shoulder from seeing all that negative press and seeing all the taunts from the public on social media and all the DM. I went to see gifs of me kicking me out all the time. This just fueled more.
It made me want to prove everyone wrong. I knew I could do that. I knew I was capable and my wife was behind me. I knew I could make it happen. This is what you have to do. You cannot give up. You will always encounter obstacles and hurdles in life. Nothing will go your way, and if something is worth accomplishing, it probably won’t be easy either. This was the main thing for me. 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 my own ego, simply because that’s it. This is the card I received in my life. That’s my skill, you know, so I’m not going to stop here just because I’ve had two bad losses.
Your life changed after the Vitor Belfort battle in 2013, which resulted in a retinal detachment that led to several eye surgeries and vision loss. Besides that initial physical pain, what’s on your mind at that point? Do you think your career is over because you can’t see with your right eye anymore?
Yes, of course. Well, I mean, I’ve never seen out of that right eye again. [Pointing to right eye.] This is just an artificial lens. I can get it in and out, and it feels like a mess behind it. it was hard. They were dark days, you know what I mean? I’ve said this before, but this is the card that handled me in life. This is me, you know? I thought, “Well, I won’t give up, even though I’m only seeing in 2D now.” My depth perception is lacking and I can’t measure distances by itself from that.
I think I can still do this. I think I can still win the world championship, and I will try bloody while I get back to my body. I will not give up. I did what I had to do to be able to fight, and luckily, it all paid off. It was kind 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 was starting to have problems with that good eye, too. This was touched upon in the documentary, but [I have] No regrets at all.
You finally get a chance to win the title against a former opponent at Luke Rockhold, but that’s in no time. However, she again beat the odds and defeated Rockhold to become the UFC Middleweight Champion. Can you express the feelings after winning that battle with words? Was this a testament to all the sacrifice I went through to get to this point?
This is exactly what it was. When I won by knockout in the first round, I jumped over the octagon and turned around and shouted “F-U, rockhold.” It wasn’t just for him. It was this for the whole world that has written me off throughout my career. Everyone said I wasn’t good enough. They said I would never be the champion and I didn’t have what it takes. This obviously put a chip on my shoulder, and made me want to prove everyone wrong. So this was straightforward for all of these people.
After every loss I’ve seen and felt. You know, like journalists who don’t want to talk to you anymore. They think you’re old news. They think you washed up. Then surely, when you lose sight in an eye, they say, “This guy? Who’s kidding? He’s lost his mind. He’d never do that.” Nobody gives you the time of day. No one gave me a bloody chance but my wife, my coach and the people close to me. So, yes, I was fighting against my opponent, but I was also fighting against the opinion of the world as well, so it was good to prove everyone wrong. To do that in the end, to become the champ, I think, under the circumstances, it kind of made it sweeter in some ways.
For non-fans of MMA, how could this documentary be of interest to them?
I think there are a lot of things they can take away from this. Number one, it’s just a very well told story, so they’ll enjoy the process of watching it. But I think, you know, it sends a good message of determination not to give up and not to accept defeat at the first hurdle. And then sometimes just dealing with what life deals with sometimes. Just try to persevere and move on and just know that no matter how hard or dark it gets, sometimes, you can get through this.
I had every bloody obstacle you could imagine when a fighter threw a fighter in my way. I have suffered losses. I had a knockout. I got injured. I had a knee replacement. I lost the vision in my damn eyes and kept going. I’ve become the world champion, and I think a lot of people, in fact, I know a lot of people have been very inspired by him because of the huge amount of very cute direct messages on social media.
With the way it’s made, it’s not just about mixed martial arts and [people saying] Isn’t Michael Bisping cool? It delves into some issues. Michael Jay White talks about life’s challenges as an alpha male. Joe Rogan talks about the casualties and trauma that combatants go through. I think you can take a lot from what you see and [the lessons that you see] crosses into everyday life.
Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story Available digitally and on-demand starting March 22nd.