Monday, March 26, 2007

The ‘Count’down with Michael Bisping - Week Six

By Michael Bisping


Hi guys, hope your week has gone well. I’ve been doing the same combination of training my arse off for UFC 70 and a few interviews here and there. I did this one interview at my gym, the Wolf’s Lair, where I accidentally high kicked the reporter in the face and gave him a bloody nose and lip (I’ll tell you about it next week) but other than that it’s been just another week to train and prepare for rocking and rolling with Elvis on April 21.

A couple of you guys have e-mailed asking about how I came to the sport of mixed martial arts and, although I’ve told the tale to many a mainstream journalist over the last couple of months, I don’t think UFC fans know much about my career before I appeared in the Ultimate Fighter III house.

So, here’s the shorthand version life and times of Michael Bisping, pre UFC days.

Here goes…

Even though I don’t consider myself a martial artist any more (like a lot of MMA guys, I consider myself “a fighter” or “athlete” even) my long road to the UFC started when I got into martial arts when I was seven years old.

I was always cramping my older brother Konrad’s style, following him everywhere, and when he started going to a martial arts gym near where we lived in Lancashire, I followed him in there.

He eventually lost interest but I just loved it. By the time I was 10, I was winning British full contact kickboxing tournaments and was lucky enough to go abroad for competitions. I’m still pretty proud of this - but I won every single competition I ever entered no matter if it was a karate, kick-boxing, jiu-jitsu or whatever.

It is funny, because the “jiu-jitsu” I was taught always had open sparring at the end of each lesson, so combining striking and submissions is something I’ve done since a very early age. Maybe I was supposed to be an MMA fighter all along!

Martial Arts was a major part of my childhood and teens - Bruce Lee films, Ninja Turtles, weapons, you name it I was into it. Embarrassingly enough, I even bought myself some throwing stars and nunchakus - although after I cracked my skull open a few times I soon got sick of the nunchakus (laughs).

But then in my late teens I drifted out of it, I don‘t know why but I thought it was time to join ‘the real world‘ and quit messing around with martial arts. I took loads of different jobs - mainly really crap ones - but nothing interested me and suddenly I was in my early 20s and quite disappointed with what I‘d done with my life.

My life was going nowhere, really, and I was thinking “Is this it? Is this who I am?”

The one thing I’d been really happy doing, and the thing I was actually any good at, was fighting so I thought about it and then set my sights on becoming a pro boxer. I hadn’t even heard of MMA at that point so I thought boxing was the only way to make a living from fighting.

So I went to the boxing gym, all anxious to get started. A couple of the guys there tried to go to town on me on my first night in sparring at the gym - but that idea didn‘t exactly work out for them. Actually, I kicked their arses so easily on my first night the trainers pitched me into some amateur boxing fights right away. I won them by KO.

I didn’t want people at the gym thinking I was a d**khead so I didn’t say this to them, but I wanted to turn pro as soon as possible and start earning some money. But, just as I was working towards starting a boxing career, I bumped into my old martial arts instructor and he told me a load of bollocks about me fighting for “life-changing money” right away in MMA.

I debuted in April 2004 and actually got paid naff all (laughs)! I didn’t even get a free ticket for my girlfriend Rebecca - I bought it (laughs). But I loved the challenge of boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and submission fighting all at once.

I had two kids by then, Callum and Ellie, but I took a chance on life and quit work to train in MMA full time.

People say to me now I’m on telly it must have been a no-brainer, giving up work as a postman, slaughterman and all the other jobs I’d tried my hand at, but, at first, I got a lot of funny looks from people. It was very hard at first, supporting a family and training as a fighter just starting out.

I’ve heard these types of stories off other fighters but I had so little money I couldn’t afford hotels, so, the night before fights, I often slept in my car.

Once I slept out in my car and there was a blizzard. Awful night, I can tell you - there was three inches of snow on my car. It was like sleeping in a fridge. It got so cold I knocked on a nearby house and asked if I could sleep in the front room.

Having said all that - becoming a MMA fighter was the best decision of my life. A lot of people thought I’d gone a bit mental, to be honest, but Rebecca was very supportive. She could have said “Hey, we’ve got two kids, what are you doing, be realistic!” but she was nothing but supportive.

Luckily, after only a handful of fights I made a bit of a name for myself on the UK scene and after I fought for a few different promotions in England I decided that I was ready for the big league - the UFC.

In December 2005 the UFC came to London to audition fighters for the third series of the Ultimate Fighter reality TV show.

I went along to the auditions in the shape of my life. To me, this was the biggest chance of my life and I wasn’t going to blow it.

They had us grappling then took us on the (punching and kicking) pads, then we did a screen test in front of Dana White and a few of the top UFC guys. I cracked a few jokes, they all laughed, and I thought I did OK.

Crossing my fingers, I trained right through Christmas 2005. I knew that if I did get on TUF III I’d get a call and be flown out to the house in Vegas within days and be fighting maybe a few days after that.

A friend of mine was short-listed too but when the call came in I was in and he wasn’t. I packed my bags and set off for Las Vegas, determined to win the contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

And you’ve seen the rest of the story live and in living colour…

Getting to the UFC was the impossible dream for me when I quit work. Other than Becky and maybe one or two others, everyone thought I’d gone nuts and was totally irresponsible following my dream like this. But I believed I could get here and, as corny as it sounds, I’m proud that I believed in myself and went after what I wanted.

Until next time - the Count

As told to Ant Evans

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