The role of the anti-hero in American culture spreads far and wide from television to movie theaters to comic books, and we can’t get enough of them.
I’m an avid comic book reader and have been since I was 10 years old, and for as much as I always adored heroes like Spider-Man, over the past couple of decades, the shift in popularity to characters like The Punisher, Deadpool and Wolverine have hit astronomical heights. What’s the common theme of these characters? They are dark characters who occasionally step outside the realm of law and order to get the job done, but at the heart of it all, they are working for the greater good.
The love of the anti-hero goes a lot further back than the past 20 years, however. Just look at the movies and Clint Eastwood’s iconic portrayal of “Dirty” Harry Callahan. This wasn’t your typical good guy cop. He was a mean spirited loner who shot first and asked questions later, and never apologized for taking out the bad guy instead of taking him to jail.
We love the anti-hero who says the things he shouldn’t say and gets away with them. We love the inappropriate humor and well placed catch phrase.
On the Fox show “24″ Kiefer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer broke every rule and law (and a few bones) to get the information he needed to stop the guys with the big weapons, who kidnapped his daughter, and were threatening an assassination. (I think that was the plot every season as a matter of fact.) Bauer didn’t negotiate, he reacted and took the bad guys down by any means necessary, and we loved him for it.
Popular anti-hero Dexter Morgan kills the killers before they can kill again.
Now when it comes to MMA, aspersions are almost always cast on a fighter, and right or wrong they have to live with that characterization. Of course nobody in MMA is upholding the law (although UFC featherweight Matt Grice is actually MMA's answer to Serpico), and hopefully nobody in MMA is actually a villainous mastermind hell bent on world domination (not to say we shouldn't keep an eye on Rory MacDonald).
MMA does, however, have it's own version of the classical hero and villain archetypes, and usually the fans are the ones that determine if one guy is the hero that will be cheered, or why another one should be held up in resentment and routinely booed.
For most of his career, Michael Bisping has played the role of bad guy to perfection. Everything he's said over the years just got under people's skin for one reason or another, and when you weigh-in and then flip off the crowd, you typically won't have many of them clamoring to cheer for you the next night.
But at the same time there's something deep down in Michael Bisping that defines him as the true anti-hero for MMA.
He’s totally separate from the cookie cutter normalcy we usually get in the world of sports and particularly in MMA. He’s brash, unapologetic, unrelenting like a dog with a bone when he has a purpose, but at the heart of it all he’s a hard worker, a family man and a damn good middleweight fighter.
When it comes time to sell a fight, Bisping cuts a promo like nobody’s business. He does all the interviews ahead of the event, breaks down his opponent with an analytical approach, but then adds in a few quick jabs to get people talking. Not to mention, Bisping verbally paints a canvas with curse words like it’s an art form he’s learned directly from a collage of Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in movies.
Many fighters shy away from discussing controversial subjects, but when something like testosterone replacement therapy comes up, Bisping doesn’t dance around while trying not to offend a potential training partner who may be using the treatment. He just calls it legalized cheating.
Ask Bisping about his thoughts on Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold coming to the UFC and getting a title shot, the Brit doesn’t hold back just because they once trained together. He doesn't say the polite thing about how he's a hard worker and hopes he gets his shot one day.
Nope, Bisping reveals that after sparring with Rockhold he’s now the unofficial Strikeforce champion because every anti-hero has to have a little bit of selfishness tucked away.
He speaks his mind, tells us all exactly what he’s thinking, and doesn’t pull punches in any interview and then goes out and puts on a fun fight almost always headlining or co-headlining a show.
Much like the comic book world, of course everyone needs a Superman – that clean cut do-gooder who leaps over buildings and saves cats stuck in trees. We have that in MMA already with UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. St-Pierre says all the right things, smiles at all times, and sometimes I feel like we're just waiting for a cape to fly out from under his suit because he's just such a good guy.
But just like in the movie Bull Durham when Kevin Costner’s character Crash Davis is teaching young upstart Nuke LaLoosh the finer points of clichés, there is a breaking point when playing nice means not saying what you really mean, and MMA is full of those catch phrases, too. “I’ve had the best training camp of my life.” “This is the toughest opponent I’ve ever faced.” We’ve heard them all a million times.
MMA needs a Dirty Harry. MMA needs that guy who isn’t afraid to stare his opponent down in the face, unleash a four-letter worded tirade, and then say “you’ve got to ask yourself one question, do I feel lucky? Well do you punk?” and then go out and back it up in the cage.
Ask Michael Bisping what he’s going to do to Vitor Belfort and his answer will most likely include a slight touch of respect interlaced with a couple of well placed insults and the sort of brash irreverence we all love deep down inside.
You can say a lot of things about Michael Bisping's mouth, but you can't call him a cheater because he's never been a fighter that's been busted for using performance enhancing drugs. As a matter of fact, Bisping routinely speaks out against the use of such things.
Bisping has never hit the headlines on TMZ after a bad night that ended up with him in a jail cell.
In reality, Bisping is just the guy who knows how to blurt out whatever is on his mind, then adds a splash of humor when he's hyping a fight, and inevitably goes out and delivers each and every time in the cage.
Now it's silly to think everyone is going to like Michael Bisping – he actually fed off of the boos and the hatred from the crowd for many years – but if you dig down deep, you’ll see there's a lot of reasons to love him.
He’ll call Vitor chicken legs, and you’ll laugh.
He’ll stare his opponent down at the weigh-ins and get them so fired up, a fight almost breaks out on stage, and you’ll cheer.
Inevitably, he’ll call someone one expletive or another and then he goes out and punches them in the face when they step into the cage together. He almost always does this with a smirk or a scowl showing both anger and a passion for the violence that’s about to ensue and the crowd will rise and fall with every strike thrown, and you'll get your money's worth.
And when the night is over, Bisping will go back home and be a good dad to his kids, help his teammates get ready for their fights, and work hard to go out and earn another victory the next time he steps into a cage.
What’s not to love?