It was a call that Michael Bisping dreaded making. In six years with the UFC he’d never had to do it before, but now he had to call up matchmaker Joe Silva and tell him that he wouldn’t be able to make his date with Tim Boetsch at UFC 149 after all.
"I’ve never, ever once pulled out of a fight," Bisping told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour. "[Before] the Ultimate Fighter final I was training with Georges St-Pierre, and I tore my posterior cruciate ligament, my PCL, several days before the fight, and I still went ahead and fought. I’ve done training camps with one hand. I’ve constantly fought injured, because that’s part of the game. That’s the way that it goes."
But now, thanks to a torn meniscus and two "loose bodies" floating around in his knee, Bisping couldn’t complete a normal run without having his knee collapse underneath him. A doctor told him he’d need surgery that would sideline him for at least four weeks, which meant he’d have to forego a paycheck and a chance to move himself closer to a middleweight title shot. It also meant he'd have to make that call.
"It was horrible," Bisping said. "I was constantly second-guessing myself. Fortunately, I’ve got a good manager, Audie [Attar] from Paradigm Sports Management, and I’ve got a good team of people around me giving me good advice. They’re not interested in me fighting just to take a percentage, they’re interested in what’s good for me. Because I was going to take the fight."
Now Bisping has a surgery scheduled for Wednesday, and a few weeks of recovery to look forward to once that’s over. What the UFC middleweight division will look like by the time he’s ready to come back, that’s a question no one can answer just yet.
For starters, there’s recent signee Hector Lombard, who called out Bisping via Twitter last week, and who may earn himself a title shot if he can notch a win over Boetsch when he replaces Bisping at UFC 149 in Calgary. Upon hearing that news, Bisping said, he was "massively pissed off," but admitted that he didn’t know much about Lombard’s actual skills.
"I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen the guy fight. I’ve never seen the guy fight once, because I’ve never seen Bellator. I don’t watch it, no interest. By all accounts he’s an aggressive fighter and he knocks people out and all the rest of it, but I’ve never seen him fight. He could be the best thing since sliced bread. I don’t know. What I do know is he’s never had a fight in the UFC, so why the [expletive] is he getting a title shot?"
Of course, he’s not. At least not yet. But then, neither is Bisping, thanks to his recent decision loss to Chael Sonnen. And while the Brit said he thinks he deserves a title shot, since "apart from a couple bogus decisions, I’ve won every fight since the Dan Henderson fight," he understands why he hasn’t been offered one yet.
"I understand the UFC’s decision," said Bisping. "The reason I haven’t had a title shot is because of me."
If Sonnen prevails in his title fight with Anderson Silva -- a big if, according to Bisping -- he’d love a rematch of their closely contested bout, this time with a UFC belt on the line. In the meantime, he’ll have to suffer through the indignity of being another victim of the UFC’s injury bug. Some might think that the UFC’s health insurance has made fighters too quick to pull out of fights, but as Bisping explained: "This is how I make money. Sitting on the sideline, having surgery, thinking on this and that, isn’t going to cut it. It isn’t going to pay the bills. It isn’t going to secure my family’s future."
As for UFC president Dana White’s assertion that fighters are bringing these injuries on themselves with over-training? Bisping doesn’t necessarily disagree, he said, but he also doesn’t think there are many other options available to fighters at the highest level of the sport.
"Maybe we do go too hard, but that’s the way you’ve got to train to get ready for a fight. You’ve got to train the way you fight. If you don’t train the way you fight, when you fight you’re going to be shocked."
Then again, if you aren’t healthy enough to even make it into the cage, you’re going to be poor. And neither is a particularly attractive option.