Michael Bisping’s recent retirement from MMA may have come abruptly — a late-in-the-day mention on a Memorial Day podcast — but for the former UFC middleweight champion, the decision was one Bisping reached in his mind well before he made things public.
“I was retired, but I just hadn’t made it formal yet,” Bisping admitted Monday on The MMA Hour.
Bisping’s announcement to hang up his gloves at age 39 was a relatively surprising one given his stated desire to stage a farewell fight in England before his 14-year run in the fight game came to an end. Reflecting back on his decision Monday, “The Count” admitted that in retrospect he wanted to do one last fight “probably for all of the wrong reasons” — the global adoration that comes with a big sendoff, or the ability to ceremonially lay his gloves down on the canvas for a final time.
Bisping explained that his mind was gradually changed in that regard by pleas from his manager Audie Attar and his loved ones, both of whom simply wanted him to call it quits. Then, the day before he made things official, he watched the film Journeyman on a plane and became extremely emotional, relating to the story of an aging prizefighter who suffered severe mental and physical problems as a result of brain trauma to his own plight.
“It’s been a hell of a ride, it’s been amazing, but I knew watching that movie, I’m like, yeah, this is it, this is the end,” Bisping said. “I can’t do this to my family anymore. I can’t do it to myself. Obviously my eye is in terrible shape, and my good eye, I’m having a couple of issues with that as well. Nobody wants to go blind, and a friend of mine as well said, ‘You know if you went blind, you would give any amount of money in the world and get your sight back,’ and of course you would, so it just isn’t worth it.”
Bisping’s problems with his eyes are well-documented. His vision in his right eye was dramatically affected by a detached retina he suffered in a 2013 loss to Vitor Belfort. He then sustained a vitreous detachment in his left eye as a result of his 2017 loss to Kelvin Gastelum, putting him at an increased risk for a second detached retina.
But his eyes aren’t the only issues plaguing Bisping after a lifetime spent in the fighting arts.
“My knee still gives me problems,” Bisping said. “I’m still getting treatment on it three times a week, and that doesn’t seem to be getting better. I’m almost 40 years old as well. Forty years old. I’ve had more fights than anyone in the UFC, I’ve had more wins than anyone, I’ve won the belt, I’ve made some money, I’ve fought literally all over the world. What more is there to do? You would be a fool to carry on.
“Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss it terribly. I’m going to miss it every day. Every time I watch a fight, I’m going to wish I could do it. So, I will miss the sport terribly, I’ll still train, still keep in shape. I’ll probably still flirt with the idea of having a fight again, so that why I told the UFC to take me out of the USADA testing pool, so it’s not just as easy as saying I’ll fight next month. No, I’ve got to go through the testing pool again, so I’m officially retired on all fronts.”
Bisping admitted that, for a time, he still tried to move forward with his plans for a farewell fight on March 17 at UFC London despite his injuries. At one point, he even entered into negotiations for a potential contest against Rashad Evans, concocting an elaborate gameplan for Evans simply because the fire to compete still raged inside him.
“Because I believe in myself, and I believe that I could still beat these people,” Bisping said. “I know I could still beat everyone f*cking out there. So I’m thinking, ‘Okay, alright, well, I just won’t get hit. I just won’t take any damage. I’ll really apply myself to training camp, I’ll do this, I’ll surprise everyone and come out there and use my grappling for once.’
“There’s many ways you can look at it and try and break it down, so I thought f*ck it. And wife didn’t want me to do it. She was begging me not to. And I actually accepted the fight in London in March, and I was so excited to do it, then the deal kinda fell apart. So, probably a blessing in disguise.”
Bisping now walks away from the sport of MMA as a surefire Hall of Famer. His official MMA record of 30-9 includes a host of all-time UFC bests — the most wins in promotional history, the most fights, the most significant strikes landed, and the second-most total fight time in promotional history, among others. A one-time winner of The Ultimate Fighter who contended at the highest level for over a decade and captured the UFC middleweight title in his late 30s, Bisping’s résumé is as complete as any fighter could dream of.
Through it all, “The Count” said he holds no regrets about his journey, however he does admit that his final fight — a short-notice, first-round knockout loss to Gastelum at UFC Shanghai — was a mistake, in retrospect, that he shouldn’t have taken.
“It would’ve been the perfect ending, I guess, to fight a legend like Georges St-Pierre in Madison Square Garden [at UFC 217], lose the belt and then say, ‘You know what, I’m retired.’ That would’ve been perfect,” Bisping said. “It would’ve been. But first and foremost, the reason why we do this, we take fights and we take these risks, is to make money. That’s what we do them for and that’s why I started doing this.
“My goal when I got into the fight game was, hopefully, because I left school at 16 — my goal was to make enough money from fighting to be able to go to college and get a trade, or get some kind of training in something so I could get a decent paying job. That was my goal, and it far exceeded those expectations. So the point I’m making is, I do it for money, and I was able to get a quick turnaround, no fight camp, nothing like that, and go into that fight.
“Now, looking back in hindsight, it was a big mistake. I was over-trained. I was malnourished. I was weak as a f*cking dog. I was. Sh*t, I remember I was Shanghai and I looked myself in the mirror and I’d lost all muscle tone and stuff. I’m going, ‘Jesus Christ, look how skinny and pathetic I look.’ It was just too much. But it is what it is, I still thought I could beat him, and I still think if I was to take a rest and have a proper training camp, I could’ve won that fight. But fair play to him, he caught me and well done. So yeah, no regrets.”
For a long while, effectively the first 12 years of his career, it appeared as though Bisping was doomed to go down as one of the greatest fighters to never vie for a UFC title.
That, however, changed with a late-career run that saw Bisping embark on a stunning five-fight win streak over C.B. Dollaway, Thales Leites, Anderson Silva, Luke Rockhold, and Dan Henderson. The latter two of those victories saw Bisping capture the title via first-round knockout with a massive upset of Rockhold, then defend his strap with a revenge win over Henderson. And Bisping admitted Monday that his decision to hang up his gloves would’ve been much harder to make if the final few years of his career had played out differently.
“One hundred percent,” Bisping said. “I always knew it was my destiny to be world champion, even when I was a kid in primary school, elementary school for you guys. Even back then, I knew. This was all I was ever good at, fighting. This was all I cared about. It was the thing that I was most prideful of. When I was a little sh*t on the streets, getting into street fights all the time, I could beat anyone and that was my identity, rightly or wrongly — of course, wrongly for any kids listening, it’s not a smart thing to do. But I had nothing going for me back then. So for sure, not fighting for the belt, not winning the belt, it would’ve been much harder to walk away.”
Near the end of the discussion, Bisping was reminded of uncanny words he expressed in an interview before his April 2015 fight against Dolloway.
Despite being widely written off after stumbling to Rockhold months prior, Bisping vowed that he would defeat Dolloway at UFC 186, then pick up another win; in the meantime, Rockhold would defeat then-champion Chris Weidman; then the stage would be set for the two rivals to eventually rematch for the belt by the summer of 2016.
Unbelievably, that exact scenario ended up playing out just like Bisping predicted — and true to form, “The Count” still believed even when no else did.
“One million percent, I did,” Bisping said. “One million percent. When I said that, I wasn’t talking sh*t. ... I said it because I believed it.
“And right before that first fight with Luke Rockhold, we did the press conference, and I did a quick phone interview. And I forget who it was, it was one of the bigger names, MMA journalist, and he said to me, he said, ‘Mike, you lose this fight, it’s over, right? It’s over, you’re done.’ And I’m like, ‘No.’ He goes, ‘Well, of course, because you’ve been close so many times. You lose this fight, you’re done.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t feel that way. If I lose this fight, I go back to the drawing board, of course, but I ain’t going to f*cking stop. I ain’t going to stop until I get that belt.’
“Keep working toward it, and I think that’s what everyone needs to realize, any young fighters out there. Whatever it is in life that you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to get setbacks, you’re going to get knocked down, you’re going to get hurdled. People tell you to go away, you’re not good enough, whatever. Keep working. Keep trying. You’ve got to be dedicated. You’ve got to have a plan. Regardless of how outlandish it sounds, if you put a plan in place to take those first steps, you’re one step closer to achieving your goals. Don’t take no for an answer. Jesus Christ, I’m living proof of that.”