You see him doing it, and you know he's got no clue what he's in for. When he looks back over his shoulder before deciding to swerve his bike into the very center of the lane, thus locking the traffic behind him into his own agonizingly slow pace, how could he possibly know that the pristine black Range Rover that is now bearing down on him is being driven by UFC middleweight Michael Bisping? And how could he know that Bisping is in the midst of an unpleasant weight cut, that he's been teetering on the verge of pissed off all day, that of all the things the British fighter's been called over the years, a patient driver is definitely not one of them?
The poor, dumb cyclist. You'd almost feel bad for him if he wasn't acting like such a jerk right now.
"What is he doing?" Bisping says, slowing the car down to a crawl. Even for a bicyclist, and even in the strong desert wind, this guy is slow.
It's not as if he can't feel us right behind him, either. It's not as if he couldn't easily move over to the side of the road to let us pass. Bisping gives a gentle beep of the horn to remind him of this fact. The cyclist flashes a gloved middle finger over his shoulder without turning around.
Bisping beeps again. This time the cyclist turns around to give him the finger. Oh, this freaking guy. Beep, beep, beep, goes Bisping. The cyclist comes to a full stop and turns to face the car, shouting reckless words that get immediately lost in the wind and drowned out by the incredulous laughter of Bisping's passengers. Does this man have any idea that he is instigating an unnecessary traffic confrontation with a professional fighter? Probably not, no. But from the look of things, he's intent on finding out.
"Actually," says the man in the passenger seat, "we're here."
He points off to the right and there it is, the Big 5 sporting goods store we've been looking for. It's funny, with the excitement over the cyclist, I almost forgot why we had packed into the car to begin with. I almost forgot that the whole thing started because Bisping needed a sauna suit and other assorted weight-cutting accessories, and now here we are.
As he pulls into the parking lot, Bisping can't help but watch over his shoulder as the cyclist continues on in the center of the lane, making himself a nuisance to the next car. This guy, Bisping remarks, is probably also having a rough day. The way he's going, this guy might be headed for a rough life.
Just getting to the Big 5 today was a bit of a chore. First he had to get his team together, which meant locating a bearded man named Lunchbox on the Palms casino floor, then sending a man named Jacko back up to the room to get himself a sweatshirt, then playing a couple hands of blackjack while we wait because, hey, might as well. One thing Bisping cannot do, it seems, is stand still for very long.
This proves to be a problem when he asks the hotel valets for his car and they seem briefly baffled by their own system of tickets and numbers. We end up waiting in the cold and the wind with all the other sad sacks, gathering around a gas heat lamp that isn't even on. No problem, Lunchbox tells us. He can get it going. He can't, as it turns out, but it hardly matters because as long as we can watch him frantically turning dials and pushing buttons and cracking jokes about how he might be on the verge of blowing us all up any moment, we're not thinking about how cold and annoyed we are.
This serves as a neat little metaphor for Lunchbox's role in Bisping's mini-entourage, actually. Even though, over the course of our time together, I'm unable to get a satisfactory explanation for exactly what it is that he does -- "I wear many hats," he explains -- he does seem like a good guy to have around on fight week.
He's funny and oddly charismatic. He's excited about nearly everything, and not just because he's been sipping Red Bull through a straw for the past 20 minutes. The point is not that he's the guy who can get the heat lamp going; the point is that he will try, and in trying he will provide a distraction. This week in particular, distractions are exactly what Bisping needs.
That's kind of the point of this trip. He needs the plastics for his weight cut, just like he needs Pedialyte for immediately after the weigh-in, but for those he could have sent Lunchbox or even Jacko -- a childhood friend of his who Bisping convinced to quit his job and go to work designing his website.
Really, this is about getting out of the hotel. After a morning of one repetitive interview after another, the last thing he wants to do is think or talk about fighting right now. Besides, if one more person asks him what was the difference between being a coach on The Ultimate Fighter and being a contestant, he might choke somebody.
"Let's just go to Champs," Lunchbox says once we're in the car. "I know where there's a Champs."
Champs? Bisping has never heard of Champs. He wants to go to Big 5. Big 5 will have the plastics. Lunchbox attempts to explain that Champs and Big 5 are essentially interchangeable American sporting goods franchises, but Bisping isn't convinced. He turns the music down and stops the car. Lunchbox is going to call and check. We haven't even made it out of the Palms parking lot yet.
"Do you have sauna suits?" Lunchbox asks the Champs employee over the phone. "You know, like plastics?"
He waits a beat. We're all held in a strange little spell, as if so much depends on the answer.
"You don't?" he says. "Okay. Well, you really just made an ass of me right now."
The car erupts in laughter. Bisping cranks the music back up and peels out of the parking lot. Big 5 it is.
It needs to be said here that, for all his other talents, Michael Bisping is not a good driver. Even now, when he's in no special hurry to get anywhere, he drives like a man who is fleeing the scene of a heist. He weaves through traffic at high speeds, engine roaring over the stereo so that he has to continually adjust the volume. He brakes suddenly and violently. He rolls through stop signs and rushes through red lights. Does his Range Rover even have a working turn signal? I have no idea, because he hasn't attempted to use one yet.
At some point I flash back to earlier, in the UFC media room at the Palms hotel, when I overheard Bisping telling an interviewer about a bad car accident he was in as a youth. I have no problem believing this now, and I'm questioning my decision to leave my seat belt unbuckled rather than awkwardly feel around in the area near Jacko's ass in search of the buckle. If Michael Bisping kills me in a car wreck two days before his fight with Jason "Mayhem" Miller, I'm going to be so pissed.
When we're safely parked, I ask Bisping about the car wreck story. Oh yeah, he tells me. It was bad. Broken glass everywhere. Car upside-down. What a mess. Apparently not enough of a mess to make him reconsider his driving habits, but okay.
Of course, I don't really get the story of the car accident, just the summary version. It's the same when UFC director of media relations Ant Evans attempts to get Bisping to tell the story of when he got stranded in Bali on his way back from the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships.
Okay, Bisping says. He'll tell the story, but not now. He can't talk and concentrate on shopping, not while his body and brain are both so drained from the weight cut. Just walking around and functioning in this state of depleted nutrition is hard enough, and it's beginning to fray his nerves.
Then again, can you blame him? You try and survive on distilled water and very little food, and your patience will be the first thing to go.
After securing the plastics and briefly arguing over whether the fact that there's a picture of a woman on the box means that this is a women's suit, we head to Walgreen's for other weight-cutting accoutrements. Alobolene, to suck the moisture out of his skin. About six big cylinders of Morton's salt, to put in a hot bath. Pedialyte, for when he steps off the scale. Cliff bars, Balance bars, enough water to flood a small village. And, oh yeah, how about a can of Pringles?
"Give me those," Lunchbox says when he sees Bisping round the corner of the chip aisle with the Pringles in his hand.
"What?" Bisping says. Lunchbox just looks at him. He's right, and Bisping knows it.
"Yeah, I'd probably crack them open tonight," he admits. "I'd say, 'I'm just going to have two,' and then end up eating the whole can."
Which is, of course, exactly how Pringles work. And if Bisping missed weight for a main event bout because he gave in to the temptation of Pringles, he'd never hear the end of it. Not from UFC president Dana White, whose generosity toward Bisping over the years has earned his unyielding loyalty, and not from the American fans, who love to hate him.
Only don't mention that to Bisping. That's the mistake I saw several interviewers make this morning, and it doesn't exactly ingratiate them to Bisping, who is understandably a little weary of being asked how he feels about being despised by so many people. Who wouldn't get sick of that? Not to mention, as Bisping sees it, they don't actually hate him. Not really. They enjoy making him into a Vaudeville villain, someone to boo and hiss at when he appears onstage. But they don't want him to go away. They love their villain, even if it's taken him some time to get used to the role.
He's not a bad guy; even "Mayhem" Miller says so. He is, if anything, a man who gets carried away sometimes. That's true of his emotional outbursts before, during, and after fights, and it's true of his generosity to fans and friends. He's been known to blubber over devoted fans, offering to fly them around the world with him. He gave Jacko a job in a field he had no experience or qualifications in. He was as surprised as anyone when Jacko turned out to be quite good at it. Bisping just can't stop himself sometimes, and so he plunges forward ever faster. Sometimes it results in a win for the whole team. Sometimes the car ends up upside-down.
The last addition to the shopping cart today comes in the checkout line. Three Snickers bars. It's good stuff for after the weight cut, he insists. Just like a Balance bar, even though he already has a few of those, too. Is he going to eat them all, I ask.
"Nah," says Lunchbox. "I'll probably eat one."
Bisping shoots him a look. "Well, then I'd better get one more," he says.
There's some discussion about going in search of that cyclist once we're back in the car. "The rate he was going, he's probably only about 500 yards down the road," Bisping says. Instead, we decide to fight the traffic back to the hotel, and Bisping begins to tell the story about getting stranded in Bali.
Actually, nevermind. "It's a long story and it's not really relevant and you're not going to write about it anyway," he says. Besides, he adds, it's the kind of story best told over a couple of beers, and he won't be having any of those until after the fight, unfortunately.
Lunchbox, too, begins to tell a story about getting in a fight with one of the solicitors on the Vegas streets who hand out cards advertising escorts, but no. Ant is on his phone, Jacko may not be listening, and Bisping has heard it already. Screw us all. He's not telling it. And so it goes. One story after another dies on the vine.
"This is a miserable day," Bisping says. And he's right. It's cold and windy. The traffic is a maddening snarl all the way back to the Palms. The sky outside is a dull and dirty grey. Bisping hates Vegas. Right now, maybe he hates everything, but he especially hates Vegas.
"I've left a piece of my soul floating around here," he jokes. But it's true. The TUF coaching stints. The long stays and longer waits. All this stuff you have to go through just to get into a fight on Saturday night. If he didn't love it so much, it wouldn't be worth it.
But when the time comes and they call his name, he'll step out into the cramped Pearl Arena at the Palms, most likely to the sound of boos. They'll let him have it and he'll soak it up. They'll make him their villain and he'll play along. Sure he will. What choice does he have? He's come this far. How can he turn back now? How could he ever possibly stand still, even for a moment?
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