Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The ‘Count’Down with Michael Bisping - Week Five

By Michael Bisping

I was gutted to hear the news last Wednesday that my mate Forrest Griffin had been forced out of UFC 70 in Manchester, England with a severe staph infection to his knee.

I know the UK fans were buzzing for the chance to see Forrest in action and, from a personal perspective, I was really looking forward to maybe getting some training in with Forrest if he came out to England in early April.

I’ve trained and sparred with Forrest before – and he’s a great guy to have with you in the gym. He trains very hard but, as you can probably guess, he also likes to have a laugh and a joke at the same time.

Like I say, it’s a real shame he got this injury but his replacement against Lyoto Machida - David Heath - is a very good fighter, too.

David is unbeaten, and from the fights I’ve seen of him he’s a worthy replacement for Forrest and I’m looking forward to the fight. Light heavyweight is such a competitive division in the UFC, there’s a real depth to the talent.

As for Forrest, with the UFC planning more big shows in the UK this year, hopefully the
British fans will get to see him sooner rather than later.

I’m juggling my training with media appearances, and last Friday I flew down to London for a lunch with the leading boxing writers. The UFC had laid on a lovely meal in the Savoy Hotel - which was the very posh place you may have seen in films like “Notting Hill“.

It’s a very old school place with oak wood paneled rooms and three inch thick carpet but by inviting the press there it shows how serious the UFC is about breaking the UK market.

With UFC UK Division president Marshall Zelaznik and former boxing commission head turned UFC exec Marc Ratner present as well, I think the press in attendance went away having learned a little about what the UFC and MMA is about and hopefully they’ll be reporting on UFC 70 next month.

Some of the pressmen seemed to know a little about the UFC, while others clearly had no clue whatsoever.

But it would be easy for UFC and MMA fans to just roll our eyes when we hear the same old ill-informed rubbish - “human cockfighting” and all that – about our sport but I think it is important to try and educate people whenever we have the chance.

I’m certain one of the reasons the UFC has just exploded in popularity over the last few years is that die-hard fans have taken the time to try and explain it to their family and friends and, as a result, converted former skeptics into new fans.

This is how the sport keeps getting bigger so how can I not do the same when I have the chance to talk up our sport?

As for the Savoy lunch itself, while there was one writer who kept on about head-butts (seriously), most of the other writers came with an open mind as to what the UFC and mixed martial arts actually is.

One correspondent for one of the national newspapers remarked that I didn’t look like a boxer but more like a rugby player, and that’s probably about right, as MMA fighters probably need more physical strength in our sport than boxers do.

I think they were all impressed that UFC fighters do five minute rounds and, although some admitted they didn’t understand the ground game, they all seemed to respect MMA as a genuine sport. And that’s not something you could take for granted from mainstream newspaper writers even a couple of years ago.

All in all, it was a good ‘meet and greet’.

I was really ‘feeling the burn’ in training this week - but not in the way you may be imagining.

Here’s the whole embarrassing story:

Men’s Health magazine approached me about doing a photo shoot and obviously I was happy to invite them along to the Wolf’s Lair where I train.

Knowing they were coming to take photos in a few days, I decided it might be an idea to get a little bit of a tan so went down to my local tanning salon. I figured that one nine minute session on the sunbed would get the job done so in I went, I came out, and went home for the night.

I felt fine as I hit the sack for a night’s kip…

But I woke up the next morning with skin like a crispy duck. I couldn’t believe how red and how painful my skin was. Honestly, it was absolute agony.

I went training as normal and grappling was absolutely horrible. Every time I grappled, it just killed me. I even had someone come to the gym especially to grapple with me but, after 20 minutes of suffering in silence, I had to say “enough’s enough” and tell my training partners that I couldn’t grapple anymore.

Naturally, they wanted to know what was up and so I told them. And all of the lads in the gym thought all this was absolutely hilarious, of course, and instead of grappling I worked on some other things like my stand-up.

I couldn’t believe one session on the sunbed had done all this but a couple of days later I was in the post office back home and I saw a mate of mine - he also looked a little sunburned. I asked him about it and it turns out someone’s put the wrong strength bulbs in the tanning machines at the salon!

And you thought you’d heard every possible fighter excuse for getting out of a grappling session…

See you next time - ‘the Count’.

As told to Ant Evans

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