Calling fights can be thankless work at times and Michael Bisping found that out the hard way after he received scathing criticism from Justin Gaethje in the wake of the UFC 286 main event on Saturday.
Gaethje took issue with what he believed was bias for Leon Edwards and against Kamaru Usman during the five-round fight. When it was over, Edwards eked out a majority decision to defend his title but Gaethje blasted Bisping for the way he called the fight for both the champion and the challenger.
“I thought [Usman] won the fight but I’m probably as biased as the judges,” Gaethje said at the UFC 286 post-fight press conference. “Certainly not as biased as Michael Bisping, who shouldn’t have been nowhere near a microphone during that fight. It sucks.
“It’s not my call. I just thought it was very unprofessional.”
On Monday, UFC play-by-play man Jon Anik, who called the fights alongside Bisping and Daniel Cormier in London, took up for his broadcast partner while responding to the criticism from Gaethje.
“Must say in defense of my broadcast partner Michael Bisping, the man has zero agenda nor any bias when calling fights,” Anik wrote on Twitter. “Might even have closer personal relationship with Kamaru Usman than he does Leon Edwards. He just felt as though Edwards controlled the stand-up, landed more cleanly.”
1) Must say in defense of my broadcast partner @bisping, the man has zero agenda nor any bias when calling fights. Might even have closer personal relationship w/ Kamaru Usman than he does Leon Edwards. He just felt as though Edwards controlled the stand-up, landed more cleanly.— Jon Anik (@Jon_Anik) March 20, 2023
Of course, Bisping isn’t the first commentator to be accused of displaying biases during fights and he certainly won’t be the last.
Just about every fighter who has ever called the fights for the UFC has faced some scrutiny, especially when reacting to the performance of a teammate or past training partner. Even longtime UFC color commentator Joe Rogan has been the subject of criticism for what he’s said during past broadcasts with some athletes calling him out afterwards.
For his part, Anik says that the commentators have an impossibly tough job, especially while calling an entire fight card that can span the better part of eight hours with UFC 286 playing out over 15 total fights.
Anik knows the UFC broadcast team will never be perfect but he disagrees with the notion that Bisping was unilaterally biased against Usman or for Edwards this past Saturday.
“The job of MMA commentator is not as hard as that of fighter, judge, or referee, but it’s hard,” Anik said. :We are judged on every utterance over eight plus hours and certainly there are things we’d love to take back.
“Someone is usually upset with something. Never had a perfect show. Never will.”
2) The job of MMA commentator is not as hard as that of fighter, judge, or referee, but it's hard. We are judged on every utterance over 8+ hours and certainly there are things we'd love to take back. Someone is usually upset w/ something. Never had a perfect show. Never will.— Jon Anik (@Jon_Anik) March 20, 2023
While he hasn’t addressed Gaethje’s comments directly, Bisping has responded to criticism like this in the past as he took into account the emotional element that comes along with the results in a high stakes fight.
Following UFC 271, Bisping addressed remarks he received after calling a fight between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker where he was once again accused of being biased during the five-round battle. Bisping admitted at the time that he’s always willing to listen to constructive criticism but then again he’s also confident in his ability to call fights down the middle.
“I’m not some arrogant assh*** that just thinks I’m the be all and end all, my opinion is the only one that matters so therefore I disregard everything,” Bisping said back in 2022. “But I am confident in what I say as well. I know this sport inside and out. I’ve dedicated my life to martial arts. I am so fully entrenched in the world of UFC. It’s my life.
“That said, it doesn’t mean I can’t get it wrong sometimes. I do look at criticism and maybe some of it’s valid, maybe some of it’s not.”