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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Michael Bisping was one of the UFC’s most familiar faces inside the octagon for more than a decade. Now he’s etching the same road for himself on the other side of the fence.
Bisping, a former UFC middleweight champion and 2019 UFC Hall of Fame inductee, retired from active competition following his final bout in November 2017. He’s remained present on the promotion’s broadcasts in the years since, first as a desk analyst but more commonly as a cageside commentator of late.
It’s been the perfect transition for Bisping, who’s always been well spoken, charismatic and a camera-friendly figure. But somewhat unexpectedly, the change in role has helped ease his heart in the shift from active fighter to spectator.
“A lot of people say to me all the time, ‘Do you miss fighting?’ And the honest answer is no, I don’t,” Bisping told MMA Junkie. “Of course I do now and again, and the money was always nice. But I’m still involved with the sport now. (Recently) I was there. I was commentating the fights and a lot of time I get to step in the octagon – when things are back to normal – and interview the fighters. I’m a part of the show, and it’s because of commentating, and that’s why I don’t miss it. I love doing that. The compensation is great, as well, and it keeps me involved in the sport that I’m truly passionate about.”
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Although many fighters have difficulty permanently walking away from competition, Bisping’s decision initially was made easier due to his health. His well documented eye injury could have cut his career short at any moment, and since retirement he’s undergone a pair of knee replacement surgeries, as well as a procedure on his neck.
Bisping’s passion toward the fight game is evident in his inspirational story of ups and downs in the cage leading up to his late-career title victory over Luke Rockhold on short notice at UFC 199. Now he gets to be the one narrating athletes going through a similar journey.
“It’s so weird because when you’re calling the fight, I sit there and they’re (a few feet away) from me and the cage is right there and I see them fighting and I just think, ‘These guys are crazy. They’re f*cking nuts to do this. This is insane,'” Bisping said. “Every reaction that I give is genuine because I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’ Then I’m like, ‘I used to do this.’ And I forget about that.”
In addition to his success as a UFC commentator, Bisping has branched into the media world as an analyst for BT Sport and host of his podcast, “Believe You Me.” He has a lot of knowledge to offer after a career that included winning “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, fighting under the UFC banner 29 times, headlining 13 events, and getting his hands on UFC gold.
Bisping can’t just rest on his laurels if he wants to thrive in his new career, though. Just like his commitment to fighting, being a prominent voice in the MMA sphere requires dedication and focus.
“It is a challenge,” Bisping said. “You’ve got to know your stuff and you’ve got to do a lot of research. It takes probably an entire week leading up to a fight. That is my No. 1 focus. Each fighter takes about an hour. If there’s 13 fights, that’s 26 fighters (and) 26 hours. You’ve got to watch interviews, you’ve got to go to the social media, try to see who they’re training with and things like that. UFC does a great job. They give you lot of information, bios and stuff like that. But still the research, it’s not challenging, but it’s time consuming, and you have to do it.
“As someone who became a professional fighter, it’s no surprise that I was terrible at homework in school. … If I want to keep that job, I’ve got to know what I’m doing and I’ve got to do the research. It’s not a pain. It’s a necessary evil that has to be done.”
Bisping’s position doesn’t come without critics, either. He said “it’s a balancing act” to find the right tone when calling a fight, from giving each fighter their proper respect to inserting personal opinions or trying to liven up a situation with some humor.
It’s Bisping’s intention to call a fight as fairly as possible, he said, but issues are bound to arise. He brings a blunt style to the table and shoots from the hip, which can perhaps come off as harsh. But for Bisping, it’s what’s honest for the viewer.
“We saw Kevin Holland (fight Derek Brunson at UFC on ESPN 21), and Kevin Holland got beaten,” Bisping said. “There’s a lot of theatrics and messing around and stuff, and when he’s watching that back I hope he’s not offended by anything I said. I was a little frustrated watching that fight, but only because he’s so talented, and he’s so good, and I thought there was something missing, so I was trying to get that across to the audience. Because I’ve got to call it like I see it. I can’t sugarcoat it. I can’t. I wasn’t saying it with nasty intentions, I was just saying it more from an advice standpoint.”
Bisping’s trajectory in broadcasting appears to be trending upward as he continues on with his post-fighting life. He checked every box in the fight game as a competitor, but now has another passion to follow, and he said he’s doing it with the same ferocity as his previous endeavors.
“I feel like I know a fair bit about this sport,” Bisping said. “That’s another reason why I’m so blessed to have this job, because literally my expert subject is mixed martial arts, and there’s nothing on this planet that will pay me like commentating in the UFC. In fact, there’s no other fight promotion on the planet that can rival the UFC, in boxing or in mixed martial arts. So I get to call the fight with the best combat sports production in the world. That’s something I take very seriously, and I’m very happy to have it.”