Michael Bisping has been an active member of the UFC roster for almost exactly a decade. During that time The Count has forged a successful career for himself inside the Octagon, first as a Light Heavyweight before dropping down to promotion’s Middleweight division which was, at the time, ruled by the iron fist (and knees and elbows etc.) of one Anderson Silva.
Now, after outpointing an aging Silva in London last February, and because of former champion Chris Weidman’s neck injury, the Mancunian has secured the title shot he has been chasing for the entirety of his UFC tenure.
But the situation isn’t exactly ideal.
The title fight with champion Luke Rockhold will headline the UFC 199 card in California on June 4th, leaving Bisping (who is currently in Canada shooting the new xXx movie) little more than two weeks to prepare for the biggest test of his career. As if the lack of preparation time wasn’t enough of a hindrance to Bisping’s chances, the fight will take place in the champion’s home state AND Rockhold already holds a dominant two-round starching of the Brit on his record.
Bisping isn’t fazed though. In fact, the way he sees it he and Rockhold currently have an even scoreboard.
Speaking to Sirius XM’s The Luke Thomas Show, Bisping said:
Listen, I’ve fought this guy before. It didn’t go my way. I’ve sparred him in training. It definitely went my way that time. I was doing good in the first fight. He caught me with a head kick, god bless him. That’s the way this thing goes. Like, it only takes one shot.
GYM WARS AND THE DAMAGE DONE
It’s an interesting thought. Us MMA media and fans are really only privy to what we see under the bright lights, but for every fight inside the cage there are hundreds which go on behind closed doors never to be seen by anyone.
The Russian Hammer Artem Lobov has spoken of the “crazy wars” that he and Conor McGregor have had at SBG Ireland over the years, with Lobov even said to be responsible for a spot of amateur dentistry on the reigning Featherweight champion after one particularly competitive sparring session.
Top Bantamweights Urijah Faber and TJ Dillashaw trained together for six years at Team Alpha Male before Dillashaw’s less than amicable split from the gym where he won a world title. Nowadays a bout between Faber and Dillashaw would draw hundreds of thousands of Pay Per View buys and would be considered one of the biggest Bantamweight fights in the division’s history – despite the fact that some form of a fight between the two has already happened on dozens of occasions on the mats inside Faber’s gym.
More infamously, the famed Chute Box academy in Brazil has also been the scene of some legendary brawls where, legend has it, the likes of Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva and Shogun Rua would engage in career-shortening hard sparring on numerous occasions each week, the very same type of intensive training which several commentators have speculated could be responsible for the abrupt and noticeable deteriorations which occurred in several fighters who called that gym their home.
Thankfully, MMA has moved into an era where more and more fighters understand the inherent risks involved when you regularly permit training partner to throw full force strikes. Donegal’s Joe Duffy was removed from a headline bout at last October’s UFC Dublin after being diagnosed with ‘mild’ concussion in training, with the UFC wilfully sabotaging one of their own cards in the name of strict adherence to medical policy. More recently, just two weeks ago, Bellator Lightweight Josh Thompson was pulled from a card after receiving a concussion in training from surging teenage prospect Aaron Pico.
— UFC News (@UFCNews) October 21, 2015
This speaks to the UFC and Bellator, the two largest MMA promotions on Earth, acknowledging the narrative that brain injuries, or the minimising thereof, is going to be a central theme of this sport in future and both companies have encouraged their athletes to be train in as safe an environment as possible and it’s a message which has impacted even a hardened veteran like Michael Bisping.
I’ve got to lose some weight, I’ve got to do some runs, I’ve got to spar a little bit. I’m not even going to spar that much because I don’t want to get banged up.
While these legendary gym wars might indeed be a thing of the past, Bisping will take the memory of his sparring session with Rockhold into the cage with him on June 4th.
“I know he’s technically very good”, said Bisping. “I’ve been in there with him. I’ve felt him. I’ve sparred with him for five rounds once, and I whooped his ass there.”