If someone was to come up with a game show category to name a UFC star from England, probably nine out of 10 fans' first response would be Michael Bisping.
But some people's favorite, and others' least favorite, British fighter is actually these days a resident of Southern California, Orange County to be specific, and loving it. He made the move last year and hasn't looked back for a second.
"I didn't want to be one of those guys who came to America, won the Ultimate Fighter, and went back and stayed in England," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I love where I came from. I came from a small town in the middle of nowhere (Bridlington in East Yorkshire) where people treat me the same as they did before I made it to UFC. I lived in the same small town my entire life. But there's a big world out there. I wanted to experience something different."
Bisping (22-4, 12-4 UFC record) said the improved training from relocating is going to make the difference at UFC 152, when he faces heavy-hitting Brian Stann (12-4, 6-3 UFC record). While Bisping has had a solid UFC career, he's noted that when all is said and done, he doesn't want to end his career as the answer to a trivia question. Who is the fighter with the most UFC wins in history who has never gotten a championship match? With a loss here, and another couple of wins down the line, he could be that person. At 33, a loss on Sept. 22 in Toronto would greatly delay and could destroy any hopes of a title shot.
"I've been talking about being a top contender for a long time," said Bisping. "But the world title seems to always be one or two fights away. If I beat Brian Stann, I'll get the title shot. It's a tough fight. He hits hard. He will try to knock me out from the opening bell. I've been working with a new boxing coach. Technically, I'm faster than I've ever been. I'm stronger than I've ever been. I'm athletically way better. And I'm mentally more prepared as well."
Bisping noted if anything, he was afraid he was peaking in camp too soon. He said he was ready to fight nearly three weeks ago. He said the last week of camp, usually the hardest and the one designed to round you into peak shape, he said was "complete overkill."
"My resting heartbeat is 34 beats per minute," he noted at two weeks out before the fight. "I'm overdoing it now. I'm constantly holding back. I could have made weight two weeks ago. I'm just holding myself back and getting it over with."
He credits the move, more because of the higher level of training and coaches, for taking his game up a notch.
"I can live anywhere I want in the world as long as I show up the night of the fight in shape," he said. "I have different coaches, a different lifestyle, better training opportunities. I never realized how much better it would be. The level of professional training and just the every day experiences are better. This is a proper business and I'm maximizing my earnings potential. I'm making the most of my career, and getting everything I can out of it. That's not the reason I came, but that's what I've discovered. If I came earlier it would have been a good thing. But I'm happy with the timing."
The idea of moving from England was as much from his girlfriend, Rebecca. The original idea was to move the family, as the couple has three children, to her home country of Australia.
"All of her family live in Australia," said Bisping. "She has no ties to England. She wanted to move to Australia. She didn't like England. It rains a lot. It's cold and wet. She wanted to leave."
But Orange County won out, with the decision being made for professional reasons.
"I was going to move to Australia but the training opportunities weren't as good."
He had made friends with a number of fighters in the area since he first came to Big Bear to train in 2007, and made more friends over the years when he's come back to do camps.
"The weather is amazing. It's a beautiful part of the world. The people are friendly. The training is great. I was coming out here a few weeks of every camp. I went to the gym and across the street was the beach. It was beautiful. I'd each lunch outside with the waves crashing. What a life to live. Ever since then I started flirting with the idea of moving."
Of Bisping's four losses, three were relatively close decisions, to major names like Chael Sonnen (in his last fight on Jan. 28), Wanderlei Silva and Rashad Evans. Of course, no mention of Bisping and decisions can go without the mention he was also lucky to get a win over Matt Hamill in the fight that led to him being one of UFC's most hated fighters of the past several years.
What's funny is he probably garnered more respect for the losses to Evans and Sonnen than for any of his wins.
"It's weird, in some respects I ended up gaining a little by losing to Sonnen because people thought I won," he said of the fight that led to Sonnen getting the shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva. "It solidified my position in the category. People finally gave me respect because of a close fight with a top contender. But after all that work in the training camp, to walk away with a loss, that's not what I train for. I've never lost two fights in a row. Coming into this fight, I've trained my ass off. I'm fighting with a sense of urgency and I don't want it to go to the judges."
The fight with Stann came more because both men were injured at the same time, and now healthy at the same time. Bisping was first scheduled on UFC 148. He was then moved to UFC 149, the Calgary show where just about everything went wrong on.
Bisping's knee, which had bothered him for more than a year, got so bad he felt he couldn't continue training for his fight with Tim Boetsch. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in late May to help repair a torn meniscus and had two piece of cartilage removed. Stann injured his shoulder in training for a fight that same date scheduled with Hector Lombard.
"The knee is absolutely fine," Bisping said. "Sometimes after a hard training week, it's a little sore. But once I'm warmed up and training, it doesn't bother me. It doesn't stop me from doing anything."
As far as people liking him more, that's become a funny one as well.
"I'm getting more positive feedback from the fans these days," he said. "A lot of people on twitter daily are saying, `You know what, Bisping, I used to hate you but now you're one of my favorite fighters.' It's nice. It's not what I live my life for and I do enjoy being the bad guy. Now I have to watch what I say because if people are nice to you, you have to be nice back."
He's even thinking that he may end up getting him cheered instead of his usual reaction of being booed out of buildings.
"With Canada being part of the (British) commonwealth, and he's an American hero, I may get cheered," said Bisping who has often noted whether they cheer or boo, it's the reaction that's music to his ears.
Of course, he thought the same thing when he last fought in Australia, when he faced Jorge Rivera of suburban Boston. Based on the reaction, you'd have thought they were at the Gardens in Boston for that one.
He's also not talking in pretend language about the fight, the old I'm standing and banging and letting the chips fall where they may.
"I'm a well-rounded fighter, I'd be a fool not to take advantage of every part of my game," he said. "Stand-up, that's what I like to fight, but I'm not saying I'm not going to shoot for a takedown. I'm going to look to take him down and punch and kick him as much as possible. On the ground I think I have much more of an advantage there, both ground-and-pound and submissions. But first and foremost, I'm looking to knock him out or TKO him."
He's been turning in his one liners of late, everything from making fun of the flyweight title match on the show, calling Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson "munchkins," to saying that Stann won't last as long as a virgin on prom night.
But whatever comments on Stann are both selling the fight, and maybe motivating himself. He likes being involved in grudge matches, and fighting people he doesn't like. He doesn't know Stann well. A few weeks back, when both were in Toronto promoting the fight, they spent some time together. And as much as he may have wanted to, he couldn't dislike the guy.
"He seems like a decent guy," Bisping said. "We did some PR. We went to the CN Tower. I would prefer not to do that with my opponent, but he was a decent guy, a nice guy. I'd prefer not to like my opponent. But in this case, I'm coming off a loss. I don't need any more motivation. Losing fights isn't what this business is about. I lost my last fight so I have to win, and win impressively. And I plan on doing that. He seems like a nice guy but that's not going to save him come fight time."