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That bloody Michael Bisping defines complicated ‘heart’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

In the first round of UFC 204’s main event, Michael Bisping took Dan Henderson’s "H-Bomb" and fell down, just like he did seven years ago. This time he got up. He got smashed with it again in the second, and — once again — foundered momentarily. But he survived. His features began to puff up, bleed and turn eggplant purple, yet he kept coming forward. And after 25 minutes, he got his arm raised in his native Manchester. Through a pre-Halloween crimson mask of flesh-pounded gore, he lit into the "Big Four" in the middleweight division on the mic, as if to stop him they were going to have to kill him. He was like Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The man was literally torn to shreds and spouting warm blood, yet there he was, insisting it was only a flesh wound.

Bring them on! 

Now, that’s both beyond admirable and completely uncomfortable, to get vindication through the trauma of Dan Henderson’s power punches only to call on some more, but that’s Bisping in a nutshell. If you were to say, what would a fighter look like who has spent a decade in the UFC, has logged the most minutes inside the Octagon, and has strung together the most victories, the UFC 204 post-fight picture of Bisping would speak a thousand words. Deep wrinkles through the leathery brow, scars, a set of unmatching eyes — one of them filled with ache and swollen shut — ears chewed to a cud, distortions of meatkind. He is a primal practitioner. In a league with a tenuous hold on "sport," Bisping has a way of tilting it back to its brutal foundation.

It’s also what separates Bisping from every other fighter that has competed in the UFC for so long. If he isn’t the definition of "heart" then there isn’t any meaningful way to communicate that word. Bisping is all heart. He has skills, too, he can stand in there and show you technique — kick the lead leg, work the jab, defend the takedown, excel in the clinch, hammer knees from the plum, throw crisp combos after establishing range — but it’s his unwillingness to give up on himself that overrides it all.

This late run — this masquerade, as people put it, with him as the middleweight champion — is made all the more remarkable given how he’s doing in.

He is out-persevering everybody. From CB Dollaway to Anderson Silva to Dan Henderson, he’s beating them by simply actualizing a refusal to lose. It’s all gravy at this point and a few extra lumps, but Bisping has emerged as one of the craziest, unlikeliest, most pinpoint examples of what a fighter’s drive should look like. It is not a thing of beauty so much as a thing of astonishment. He gets hit, he comes forward. He gets knocked down, he gathers his wits in a tidy little pile and holds on for dear life. Blood streaking down his face? Eh, that lets him know he’s in a fight. That he’s alive.

And that he can.

The UFC Hall of Fame is a thing without actual ballots, but the 37-year-old Bisping is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. At this point you can stick "The Count" in any of the designated wings — the Modern Wing, because he came around after 2000 and is still freaking fighting; the Pioneer Wing, because he was/is the human gateway to the United Kingdom; the Contributor’s Wing, because he works as an analyst outside the eight-walls of Hell; and the Fight Wing, which he could enter based alone on his spiteful win against Henderson on Saturday night — and who would quibble?

It’s unthinkable, too, for him to keep that attitude given the climate. Bisping has been a long-standing prick — who everybody in his division acknowledges is a prick (himself included) — and maybe for good reason. He has outlasted so many names it reads like movie credits (Charles McCarthy, Eric Schafer, Jason Day, Denis Kang, Elvis Sinosic, et al.), outdid some of the sport’s legends (Silva, Henderson), hung around longer than the Fertittas, and Joe Silva, and Dude Wipes. He has outlived the pre-USADA era of rampant cheating, even after playing the role of its most notorious victim.

Somehow, Bisping just keeps chugging along, and for that he is a modern-day marvel of the sport. It wasn’t the most beautiful fight against Henderson — maybe you even think he lost it — but it was a fight that ended up being very Bisping. There was no way he was going to be made into a highlight reel knockout a second time. Even when Hendo caught him flush, he somehow stopped his consciousness from fleeing the exits. He willed himself to get up and survive. For what? Why? Who does that after so many brutal encounters through so many hard years?

Bloody Bisping, that’s who.

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