Bisping eyeing spring comeback

Michael Bisping of Great Britain celebrates victory
Michael Bisping will likely get his chance to fight Kennedy at the TUF Nations finale.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.



Michael Bisping's plane ticket did not go to waste. The "Count" is back home, back in the place he was supposed to be all along. It's just the circumstances that are so wildly different than expected. He was supposed to be headlining on Saturday night, in the arena he frequented as a boy. He was supposed to bathe in the wild reception for his arrival. But there is little fanfare for him now. Instead, it's pats on the back and words of encouragement for him to get well soon.

It was just recently when Bisping feared he'd lost it all. Amazingly, he'd fought back-to-back fights against Alan Belcher and Vitor Belfort when he finally confirmed what he'd long suspected, that something was wrong with his right eye, He'd detached his retina. After having it operated on once, in September, it had detached again due to scar tissue buildup.

To Bisping, the tragedy wasn't in the fact that his vision might forever be affected -- a real possibility -- instead, it was that his career was in jeopardy.

"All I was concerned about was my career and fighting," the 34-year-old said on Wednesday. "This defines me as a person. It is what I do. I’ve come to a point now where I’ve been in the UFC for a long time but I still haven't had a title shot. I still haven't been a world champion. I still feel like I've got a lot to prove in the sport. Because I’ve been around a while, I'm towards the higher end of the pay scale as well. It's my career, it's my job. That's what I do. I just bought a house. I was like, 'S---, is this where it ends?'"

While it’s easy to understand his concern for losing his livelihood, it’s hard to imagine that he’d be willing to trade an eye for a few more years in the cage. Told that many people would be in disbelief of his Faustian tradeoff, Bisping laughs.

“I’ve got two eyes,” he said. “All jokes aside, I was a little worried.”

Yet faced with the problem and forced out of his bout with Mark Munoz, Bisping never partook in any self-pity. Instead, all his focus was on the future.

Bisping had an artificial drain placed in his eye. It is still there and will continue to embed itself deeper as time passes. For now, his eye is still red around the outer edges, still going through the healing process which is expected to last several more months. During it, he’s being closely monitored; he drives to see his doctor every two days to ensure the scar tissue isn’t returning.

“It’s quite funny, somebody on Twitter recently said, ‘If you were to be a superhero and could have any power, what would it be?’ And I thought, ‘undetachable retinas,’” he said. “But hopefully this whole episode is behind me now. I’m doing all the correct things. The doctors are very happy.”

While he waits, he isn’t waiting around. When the time comes for clearance, he wants to be ready to go at a moment's notice. Unlike some fighters who blow up during injuries, he's dieting, eating as though he's preparing for a fight in order to keep his weight down. He's partaking in some exercise. He's visualizing the future.

His hope, which is to say, his belief, is that he'll be back in the octagon in about six months, ready to step right back into the deep end.

He’d like the winner of Saturday’s fight between Mark Munoz and Lyoto Machida -- he expects it to be Machida -- and he’s interested in the London date that has been discussed for March 2014.

In order to make it, and it is on the early side of his return projection, he’s going to need some top medical care, some hard work and some luck. At least one of those may have been answered already, as one of his doctors told him that his eye is healing so well, it’s as if he has a guardian angel. Far from taking a miracle, Bisping plans to meet his future head on, buoyed by the scare that could have cost him his vision or his career.

"In some ways, this is going to be best thing to happen to me," he said. "I know it sounds like a cliche, but I had my career almost taken away, and it made me realize how much I still have left to achieve in this sport. If time was called on my career right now, I wouldn't be happy with what I achieved. Yes, I get some notoriety and put some dollars in my bank account and whatever, but I want a lot more out of it than that. I want to stabilize my future and my children's future as well. So this has really made me even hungrier than ever."

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