Luke Rockhold had the swagger of a long-time dominant champ coming into his first middleweight title defence, but he should have kept his arrogance in check against an ever-hungry Michael Bisping.
It’s been one hell of a road to the title for the first British UFC champion, Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping. Bisping won the third season of the television series ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ with relative ease, scoring a TKO win over a completely outmatched Josh Haynes. This was way back in 2006, at which time Luke Rockhold was just 21 years old- yet to have his professional debut.
Bisping settled in well as a UFC fighter – he became a real company man. He trained hard and fought consistently well. After racking up 4 straight wins, he lost a close decision to future light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. Then, though, we started to see a disappointing pattern from The Count. He’d win the easy ones but then not be up to scratch in the big ones. Losses against Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort (now all four are now known to have been steroid or HGH users, it should be noted), and of course the first fight with Luke Rockhold, kept Bisping one rung on the ladder away from fighting for the title. For ten long years, it frustrated me, as I’m sure it did many other British fans. It seemed like perhaps he didn’t have it in him to succeed on the big stage.
But as Joe Rogan said during Saturday’s post-fight interview, “the universe rewards someone who steps up to a challenge.” And this time, Bisping wasn’t going to let it slip away. He was given the fight on two weeks notice, but much like Nate Diaz, this was no big deal for Bisping. His cardio, like Diaz’s, is off the charts. If anything, it was an advantage to come in so soon after beating legendary Anderson Silva. He came in confident, with genuine belief.
Where Bisping came in confident, Rockhold seemed to come in arrogant. Before the KO, Rogan had already commented on Rockhold keeping his chin up. The way Rockhold was holding himself, the way he was slapping body kicks out toward Bisping with an air of superiority screamed to me “I beat this guy once, I can beat him again any time I like.”
But offense and defence aren’t one and the same- however confident you can be about your ability to finish someone doesn’t give you a magic chin. It doesn’t give you the right to play with an opponent without repercussion. And Bising made sure Rockhold learned that lesson the hard way. Having wiped a couple of tears away after the fight, Rockhold paid Bisping his dues and admitted he came in over-confident and had “played around with him”. This is the very same division where the long-time ruler Anderson Silva lost the belt by playing around with Chris Weidman. If I could give any fighter a piece of advice it would be to take every single fight pretty damn seriously, or you’ll be wondering why you’re lying on the floor looking up at the guy who did take it seriously.
Michael Bisping is without question the man who first brought MMA to the legions of fans in the UK. I remember years back a newspaper poll showing him to be the UK’s most well-liked fighter, beating out boxing (and boozing) legend Ricky Hatton. Bisping embodies everything that the British want to be- he’s tough and hard-working, and he can throw ‘banter’ around with the best of them. There’s legions of US fan who hate the man due to his somewhat…‘aggressive’ conversational style, but Americans tend to take everything too personally. Look past the verbal sparring, and Bisping is a fighter who looks after his team-mates, coaching staff, and above all, his family.
When I wrote not long ago about Bisping’s surprising and heartwarming victory against Anderson Silva, I wrote the article as if it would be Bisping’s pinnacle moment on a great career. I had no idea he’d top that moment in his next fight. Whatever happens from this point forward (and at age 37 I can’t imagine we’ll have more than 2 more years of fighting from him) Bisping has gained legendary status amongst British UFC fans. And he’s done it all while staying clean of drugs, too. Thanks for everything, Mike.