UFC

Bisping on the verge of a title shot

Hear from Michael Bisping as he prepares for Brian Stann.
Hear from Michael Bisping as he prepares for Brian Stann.
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Reid Forgrave

Reid Forgrave has worked for the Des Moines Register, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Seattle Times. His work has been recognized by Associated Press Sports Editors, the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and the Society for Features Journalism. Follow him on Twitter.

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Sometimes an athlete gets a bad rap and it sticks. Like Alex Rodriguez for being a me-first pretty boy and admitted steroid cheat. Or Brett Favre for his frequent retirements and unretirements, not to mention his proclivity for raunchy cell phone photos. Or any number of modern-day athletes – Kris Humphries, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson – who seem more interested in off the field fame than in-game glory.

With these athletes, they earned their reputation, and it will brand them as long as they’re in the public eye.

The case of UFC middleweight fighter Michael Bisping, who’ll be fighting Brian Stann at UFC 152 in Toronto on Saturday, is different.

Sure, Bisping has earned his reputation as a brash lout with an accent. Bleacher Report named the Brit one of the “10 biggest jackasses in MMA today,” alongside trash-talking luminaries such as Chael Sonnen and Nick Diaz. On the two seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” where Bisping has been a coach, he’s seemingly worked hard to cultivate the enmity of UFC fans. Bisping added fuel to fans’ ire before and during his UFC 127 matchup against Jorge Rivera: The two were restrained from each other at weigh-ins, then during the fight Bisping was deducted a point for an illegal kick to Rivera’s head. After Bisping’s second-round TKO victory, the Brit, in classless fashion, spat in Rivera’s corner.

You’d think the storyline leading up to the fight against the heavy-handed Stann to be pretty black and white: The loudmouth Brit versus the U.S. Marine war hero. The man who oozes boorishness and bluntness versus the man who embodies honor and grace. The heel versus the face. Evil versus good.

Except in Bisping’s case, a career’s worth of being looked at as the bad guy has taken a recent turn toward a softer, more likable image.

“You know, it’s funny,” Bisping told FOXSports.com. “I’ve done a lot interviews for this fight, and that’s a recurring theme. I haven’t consciously gone out and done anything. I’ve always been myself. But because I’m out here in California, near L.A., I’m doing more TV stuff: Fuel TV, Ultimate Insider. People have seen a bit more of me. And they’ve warmed to me. Before that people just saw me on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ and maybe they were like, he’s an idiot, seeing me antagonizing people and riling up members of the other team.”

Perhaps it’s just when you see a more intimate side of a famous person, you can’t help but see the subtleties behind the stage persona. Or perhaps it’s simply that Bisping is now a 33-year-old father of three and accomplished professional fighter, not the 26-year-old punk who broke onto the UFC scene in “The Ultimate Fighter 3” in 2006.

“My bloody son is growing up,” Bisping said of his 11-year-old, “so I better grow up at some point.”

When you grow up like Bisping did, you’re not a man overly concerned with image. His father was a Sergeant Major in the infantry of the British Army. A trained sniper, Bisping’s father was given a medical discharge after being injured in a terror blast in Northern Ireland, then given a job with a military recruitment center at a small town outside of Manchester in hardscrabble Northern England.

“It was a lot of turmoil, there was a lot of fighting, a lot of stuff a kid shouldn’t see, but it made me into the man I am today,” Bisping said.

Not to say his family wasn’t devoted to their son’s success. Bisping’s father drove him up and down the coast of England for jiu-jitsu tournaments throughout his childhood.

But it was a family ethic based on no-nonsense military discipline. And there was Bisping’s mother, who’d been stricken with polio as a child and was just as tough as Bisping’s military father.

“She knew how to wield a rolling pin, let’s put it that way,” Bisping said.

THEY'RE KNOCKOUTS

It's hard not to fall hard for the UFC Octagon Girls.

Part of understanding the man behind the fighter is understanding why he’s a professional fighter. As far as jobs go, this is the best Bisping’s ever had. He’s worked as a double-glazing door salesman, going house to house. He worked at a sandbagging plant, grabbing 70-pound bags of sand off conveyor belts and piling them on pallets. He worked at a slaughterhouse, slicing through 500 cows a day. He never wanted to go back to those jobs.

But a big part of the job for being a successful UFC fighter has nothing to do with your success inside the Octagon. You gotta promote a fight. You gotta either talk trash, which Bisping does well, or you gotta get fans solidly in your corner, which Bisping is finding more success at.

And his timing couldn’t be better. A win against Stann could position Bisping for a UFC middleweight title eliminator fight, the winner of which could get a shot at the unbeatable Anderson Silva. He’s never had a shot at a title belt before. He’s been plenty close. The judges at Bisping’s last fight, against Sonnen, picked Sonnen as the winner in a close fight, so it was Sonnen who went on to fight Silva, not Bisping. As Bisping sees it, he’s had as successful of a UFC career as you can have without getting a title fight. And if that’s how the final chapter ends for Bisping, he’ll see that as a failed career.

But until then, he’ll keep talking – as a television commentator, yes, but more importantly as a fighter who still carries plenty of that brash youth inside of him, no matter how perceptions change.

“I’m going to do a job on Brian Stann,” Bisping said. “He’s a tough fighter. But apart from that loss to Dan Henderson, I pretty much have a perfect record in the UFC. I’ve lost a couple of debatable decisions that some judges felt I didn’t win, and I just felt like the other people do. Have I been involved in a fight where I’ve been beaten to a pulp, with the blood spattering the cameras? No one’s ever seen that. You’ve never seen me beaten in my own blood. You’ve never see me leave the Octagon with a bloody scratch on me for crying out loud.”

“On Sept. 22 Brian Stann is definitely in my battlefield,” Bisping said. “There’s no guns. It’s just man on man. And I’ll be waiting for it.”

You can take the man out of the bad reputation, it turns out, but you can’t always take the reputation out of the man.

Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com
 

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