Michael Bisping on Dan Henderson, the Luke Rockhold rivalry and the rise of UFC
Ahead of defending his middleweight title in Manchester at UFC 204, Britain's first UFC champion Michael Bisping talks rival fighters, verbals, and why drugs cheats should be banned for life
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As Britain's first UFC champion, Michael Bisping has a case for being the most dangerous man on the island. He's certainly one of the most amiable, holding forth with a cheerful enthusiasm that belies his fearsome reputation inside the Octagon. Success didn't come easy: Bisping fought in the UFC for ten years before knocking out Luke Rockhold to capture the middleweight title at the UFC 199 event in June. He defends the belt in Manchester at UFC 204, with tickets for the October fight going on sale 9 September. We caught up with the man himself for a typically forthright chat.
On the Dan Henderson fight: "There's no point in being a dick for the sake of being a dick."
"The fight sells itself. Dan Henderson is a legendary fighter, he's had an amazing career, one of the best in the history of the sport. Two weight-division champion, some of the best fights in UFC history. So the fight sells itself. Of course he knocked me out back in 2009. At the press conference I tried to get a rise out of him, but Dan's been there, seen it all. You can't really phase that guy. I tried to have a bit of fun at the press conference but he wasn't biting so I let it go. There's no point in being a dick for the sake of being a dick. If he's not going to play the game, whatever. We'll be boring I guess. I tried to have a laugh with him, throw some insults his way. Zero response."
On Henderson previously taking testosterone replacement therapy: "Either Henderson's a marvel of modern science...or he's a cheat."
"I think drugs cheats should be banned for life. But it's not my decision. Those are the protocols that were in place at the time, and this is the world we're in. I just find it ridiculous that somebody who claims they had to take testosterone replacement therapy [TRT] to compete is allowed to do so, and when the therapy is outlawed they're still competing. So either Henderson is a marvel of modern science, and people ought to take his blood, maybe find a cure for cancer 'cos he's got something special running through his veins, or he's a cheat. He was manipulating the system. I tend to lean towards the fact of him being a cheat."
On drug taking in sport: "I had a doctor offer [TRT] to me...I said, 'I've got plenty of testosterone.'"
"I think it's something like 0.2% of the population of the world have hypogonadism, which is the condition that causes low testosterone. Yet I think there was around 50 people in the UFC. So considering 0.2% of the world have it, seems to be a high percentage in the UFC. It was a loophole people were exploiting. The UFC found out, the Athletics Commission have now outlawed it. They did everything they could, there was just a brief time where people found a way to take a shortcut and to cheat. I had a doctor offer it [TRT] to me – I said, "I'm alright, I've got plenty of testosterone, believe you me. I've got too much testosterone!'"
On winning the UFC middleweight title against Luke Rockhold: "You've got to seize the day."
"I've been around the block a number of times and without sounding arrogant, you know you're at a certain level. On top of that Luke and I had sparred quite some time ago, and I guess I got the better of him, so I knew I could compete. We fought in 2014 and he got the better of me that time, caught me with a great head-kick and good for him. But I always knew I could do better than what I showed in that fight, and I always wanted the rematch. Like any fighter, if anybody gets a victory over you, you always want to get a second chance. Of course I wanted a shot at the title as well. Ten days notice, is it ideal? Far from it. But as my boxing coach said, I've been prepared for this moment my whole life. It wasn't that long ago I went five rounds with Anderson Silva. I look after myself. You've got to seize the day, as they say."
On his rivalry with Rockhold: "Luke and I certainly don't get along."
"I don't think Rockhold underestimated me. He was preparing for Chris Weidman, a tough fight. He can make excuses but he knows what happened that day in the sparring. It was five round just me and him. He knows what I was capable of. With those small gloves it only takes one. I told him, "Luke, it only takes one and I'll be swinging, and of course that's how it went down." Luke and I certainly don't get along. Maybe if we met under different circumstances, but as competitors and rivals there's an animosity within us. It was real. He disrespected me, which I took offence to, I disrespected him, which he took offence to – and before you know it you're in the gutter."
On the verbal battles: "We're not playing golf."
"After the fight, I was having my moment – I'd just won the title. I went to shake Luke's hand, and said "well done", this and that. Then I went past him again, and I didn't want to ignore him so I went to shake hands again. He said, "I've already shaken your hand." There was a bit of back and forth, it was unfortunate, but it is what it is. This is a real sport. We're not playing golf. Fighting is a highly adrenaline-fuelled situation. You'll have taken punches, sometimes you'll have to fight through some real adversity. And then you have a microphone thrust in your face. I've certainly said things over the course of my career where I thought afterwards, "I shouldn't have said that" but it is what it is. I make a lot of mistakes, what can I say – I try not to make them twice though."
On the evolution of UFC: "There's a little more money involved these days..."
"The UFC is a different place these days, but it's all changes for the better. The sport is constantly growing and evolving. We're getting more and more mainstream attention. In the US it's truly a mainstream sport. In the UK there's still some catching up to do, but they're making grounds, it's catching up all the time. The demand is certainly there... But the rules are still the same. From a fighter's perspective, there's not much difference. The sport has cleaned up a little bit, the stakes are higher, there's a little more money involved these days...but I think these are all positive signs. They're the next step in mainstream acceptance."
On pay: "If you're good enough, you'll get there."
"Everybody thinks they deserve more money in their job. Everybody wants more. That's just human nature. UFC fighters are very well compensated. You work your way up, the cream rises to the top. If you're good enough you'll get there. When fighters first start, they're not on life-changing money. But it's like anything, any sport you've got to work your way up. You don't start in the upper-echelons of the pay grades."
On training: "Getting through training camp...separates the men from the boys."
"The fight is the easy part. You've got 20,000 people cheering your name, and you get a nice healthy pay cheque at the end of it. You get adulation if you win, congratulations, etc. Getting out of bed on a cold Tuesday morning, going to the gym and getting your arse kicked...There's no-one there, no-one congratulating you. The grind. Getting through the training camps is the hardest part. I think that's what separates the men from the boys. Gyms are full of incredibly talented people who could potentially go a long way, but they don't have the discipline to get through a training camp. You can't be forced to do this job. If you don't enjoy it, you're not going to apply yourself – I guess that's true of any profession."
On the future: "I'd like three or four defences."
"How long will I fight for? How long is a piece of string? I'm going to keep going, I plan on holding that belt for quite some time. We'll see what happens. You can't fight forever, I'm well aware of that, but as of right now I feel great. I'd like to get three or four successful defences, if that doesn't happen then I'll sit down and we'll see where we're at then."