Michael Bisping walked away from mixed martial arts as the owner of one of the most decorated and well-traveled careers in UFC history, but there’s still one moment that stands above all others for the 14-year veteran: His stunning UFC 199 victory over Luke Rockhold.
Stamped as an overwhelming betting underdog, Bisping accepted the fight against Rockhold on little more than two weeks notice in June 2016 and promptly delivered one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport, knocking out Rockhold with a first-round left hook to capture the UFC middleweight title that had eluded “The Count” for over a decade.
Two years to the date from his crowning achievement, Bisping reflected back on his masterpiece at UFC 199, admitting recently on The MMA Hour that with his martial arts journey finally over, his revenge against Rockhold stands as the proudest moment of a Hall of Fame career.
“It’s flown by, but [UFC 199] does seem like a long time ago,” Bisping said recently on The MMA Hour. “I don’t know why, maybe it was because of the short notice or something, but I’ve never felt so confident going into a fight in my life. Never felt so confident. Even if you watch it back, and you see we try to touch gloves and Rockhold’s like, ‘No touch, no touch,’ and I said, ‘No touch? Well I’ll touch you in a second, motherf*cker.’ And you can hear it, I’m just off-screen saying, ‘I’ll touch you in a second, motherf*cker.’
“The fact that I’m so calm in my mind to be coming out with witty remarks right before the fight starts just shows how calm and in the moment I was, and a lot of that was because of (head coach) Jason Parillo again, and all my coaches. It was a great moment and I’ll forever remember it.”
Bisping, 39, ended up holding the UFC middleweight strap for 518 days, the third-longest title reign in UFC middleweight history. He defended his belt once in a hard-fought revenge win over Dan Henderson, then dropped his title in a back-and-forth battle against legendary champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217. But despite his accomplishments after securing the 185-pound throne, it was the very fact that he did it — at age 37, no less — that will be most remembered about his legacy, considering “The Count” was long thought to be the person who would go down in history as the best UFC fighter to never vie for a title.
And through it all, that immediate aftermath of UFC 199 — when the cameras faded away and the night grew cold and it was just a man left with his family — is the moment that Bisping treasures most.
“For me, it was afterwards, just in the car with my wife and children … like most people probably do,” Bisping said. “It’s nothing flashy or whatever. I dropped them off and drove home before I met my friends and got a little to drunk or whatever, but just getting into the car from the arena with my wife and my kids, with a gold belt on my wife’s lap, I never thought that moment would ever happen. Just us.
“It was just one of those things. My wife with the kids, and they’ve got to go to bed, so I’m like, ‘I’ll take you.’ We got in the car, it was just a beautiful moment. Kids in the car, belt on my wife’s knee, driving home. She was there every step of the way, always believed in me, and now she has the world belt on her lap. It was just amazing.
“It was just disbelief, to be honest,” Bisping continued. “Even though we were all confident and my wife always believed in me, it was just disbelief. We just couldn’t believe it. The journey from, I used to sleep in my car to now living in California, we’re sitting in a nice car, driving home with a world belt — just the journey we’ve been on.”
That’s not to say Bisping was a one-hit wonder. Far from it. At the time of his retirement, the polarizing Brit either held the record or was tied for the record in a litany of all-time UFC marks, including the most fights and wins in promotion history, as well as the most significant strikes landed in promotion history. He won The Ultimate Fighter once then turned around and coached the show twice. He trailblazed a path for U.K. fighters and still remains the only English competitor told ever hold a UFC title.
So given his London roots, it’s not surprising that Bisping was quick to answer when asked for his favorite non-Rockhold memory from his career.
“Anderson Silva,” Bisping said. “Beating Anderson in London in front of my home people, nearly getting finished in the third round, my face literally hanging off, cuts everywhere, an absolute bloodbath, fighting through that adversity — I’m glad that happened, because it made the story so much better. I got emotional after the fight in the Octagon, I shed a little tear, because that was the guy that I’d looked up to for so long that I knew I could beat. I always knew I could match up well with him and beat him, but I just never got a chance. So to do it in the way that it happened, that meant a lot to me. That was a huge moment.”
As for the legacy he leaves behind, Bisping gave himself a simple assessment. He was an old-school fighter who never truly gave up on himself — and through an untold number of ups and downs, he believed even when the rest of the MMA world wrote him off.
“I was a hard-working guy,” Bisping said. “I was game. I always took on all comers. I never ducked opponents. I never took steroids. I did it the hard way, blood, sweat, and tears. Lots of sweat, lots of blood, lots of tears. And I can be sitting here having a conversation and being a world champion, because physically, I was never that impressive, I’m not the strongest guy, I’m not explosive, none of that, but I’ll f*cking fight anybody, and I made it work for me through blood, sweat, and tears.
“Just know that anyone can achieve anything, and I’d like to think that I’m proof of that. And when you think of Michael Bisping, just think of, there was a guy that never turned anyone down and took on all comers, did it the right way, did it the hard way, did it the clean way.”