Michael Bisping has never been one to pass up on an opportunity. That attitude almost cost him dearly in the twilight of his career.
The former UFC middleweight champion’s eye issues are well-documented and date back to 2013, when he suffered a detached retina in his right eye following a knockout loss to Vitor Belfort. According to Bisping, it was later detached a second time, and he’s also dealt with glaucoma. He currently wears a prosthesis in the afflicted eye socket.
Bisping had to find ways to work around the injury during the latter stages of his UFC Hall of Fame run.
“It certainly impacted my fight career,” Bisping said during an appearance on Submission Radio. “My depth perception was pretty much nonexistent. So, people always say, ‘How did you fight with pretty much one eye?’ And I always say the same answer: With great difficulty. And it was very difficult. ... In hindsight, I guess it was a blessing in disguise, because in 2013 I got all these troubles, and this is where it all started to happen, and then I knew I was on borrowed time.
“So, that gave me the mindset that I had to create a living, essentially, outside the octagon, because I was just all-in on fighting, and I was like, well, at any time I might get my license pulled away from fighting, so I’ve got to start opening doors. I started working on being an analyst, being a commentator, doing my podcast, really trying to ramp up my acting career, and just whatever business endeavors I could find myself or get involved with outside of the octagon. So it wasn’t ideal, and I wish I had two fully functioning eyes, but as I say, every cloud has a silver lining.”
There were some close calls for Bisping as far as managing to keep his fights from being canceled. He said the UFC protocol demands that a fighter be cleared by an eye doctor once a year in addition the standard medicals before every fight. Once, before his first fight with Luke Rockhold in November 2014, Bisping was summoned by a doctor close to fight time, and he assumed that he was going to get pulled from the bout due to his eye injury.
As it turned out, they just needed to remove a few stitches, and Bisping was free to compete.
Fast-forward to his final fight with Kelvin Gastelum three years later in China, and Bisping had a far more severe scare. Less than one month after dropping his UFC title to Georges St-Pierre in a brutally physical encounter, he agreed to step in on short-notice to fight Gastelum at UFC Shanghai. In what turned out to be the final fight of his 13-year career, he lost by first-round knockout, and soon after, his eyes were giving him problems again.
“I fight Georges St-Pierre, I lose that fight, and he knew I was blind in one eye – he targeted it,” Bisping said. “Then, I fly to Shanghai, couple of weeks later I fight Kelvin Gastelum, I get cracked, I think I’ve had a good run and that was that.
“And then we go to an after-party afterward, and I’m sitting there in this club, and every time I look this way, I get a flash of light. I was like, what was that? So I look again, another flash of light. And every time I look to the left, I would get a flash of light. And I started panicking because I’m thinking, holy s*it, I don’t believe this, I’ve got a detached retina in my good eye. And I started getting emotional, in a night club. I’ve had a couple of drinks, but I’m like, f*ck, I’m thinking I’m gonna go blind.
“It’s a long flight back to (Los Angeles), and I wake up halfway through and I look to my left, and there’s that flashing light. Holy sh*t, I’ve forgotten all about that. So when I land, I call my eye doctor straight away, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, you need to go see someone.’ I go in there — and whenever I’m uncomfortable, I always use humor as kind of like a mask — and I went in and I see this doctor and I say, ‘Listen, doc, I think I’ve got a detached retina in my good eye.’ And he said, ‘Alright, well, let’s take a look, I’m gonna put some drops in you’re not gonna be able to see for a while.’ And I make a joke, I say, ‘Oh well, I guess I better get used to this view, ey?’ And he says, ‘Calm down, we’re not there just yet.’ And I was like, ‘We’re not f*cking there just yet? Jesus Christ.’ I was freaking out. And anyway, turns out I had a vitreous detachment.”
Bisping explained there is vitreous fluid and millions of fibers that connect the iris and the retina, and they gradually separate as one gets older. However, in his line of work, the connection had been damaged from all of the trauma he’d taken in his career, which is why his retina had detached. The flashes of light he saw were fibers pulling from the retina.
“So anyway, I was like, well, that’s it, the game is up – I don’t want to go blind,” he said.
Regardless of his struggles, there was no way he would pass up on a marquee matchup with St-Pierre at UFC 217. Ironically, because his eye injury made him acutely aware that his career could end at any moment, he ignored other injuries he was suffering from at the time, including torn rib cartilage from a training accident, and powered through to make the Madison Square Garden encounter.
Bisping doesn’t feel as strongly about taking the fight with Gastelum. Although he was still in shape from the St-Pierre fight, he said the booking was a favor to the UFC, which had lost Anderson Silva for a fight opposite Gastelum. In retrospect, he sees it as a bad choice.
“Anderson Silva failed a steroid test and Kelvin Gastelum needed another opponent,” Bisping said. “I was over-trained for GSP, and I was like, screw it, whatever, it is what it is, I’ll fly out there, get another payday. So, I went out there. So, listen, money’s one thing and legacy is another. You can’t buy a legacy. So, I do regret doing that Kelvin Gastelum fight, because I had no business doing that.
“I was over-trained. In fact, I didn’t train for that fight whatsoever. I was overtrained from the GSP one. Then I went on the piss for a couple of weeks, and then flew out to China with my mates, you know what I mean? He was training for the biggest fight of his life, I had already been choked out a couple of weeks ago. So, the conditions weren’t right. But there was a lot of money on the table, but I knew I was almost done. And for me, that’s why I got into this, I got into it to give my family a better life. And as I said, I won’t go into the actual number, but it was a big number, it was a huge number. And I’m like, alright, well I’ll go out and collect that, and I’ll fly out to China.”
Watch Bisping’s appearance on Submission Radio below: