UFC great Michael Bisping on success, missing England and his upcoming speaking tour
The North West punches well above its weight in the sports world.
From Flintoff, Fury and Farrell to Wigan, Wiggins and winning football clubs, many residents of the region have graced the biggest sporting stages.
And Clitheroe’s Michael Bisping is certainly among them.
On October 8, 2016, thousands of fight fans from across the region flocked to the Manchester Arena to watch one of their own defend his UFC title.
Despite fighting in the early hours – to suit American TV audiences – tickets sold out in just six minutes.
Exactly five years on, he will make an emotional return home to the city. Only this time he will be appearing on stage, rather than in a caged octagon.
The 42-year-old is promising laughs, inspiration and incredible insights as he traces his career during his ‘An Evening with Michael Bisping’ show at Manchester’s O2 Apollo Theatre on October 8.
The idea, he says, came from the success of a one-off show in Canada before the pandemic struck.
“I was in Toronto and a friend of a friend suggested I did a one-man show,” explained Bisping, speaking over a Zoom call from California.
“I was terrified, but my co-host Luis (Gomez, from their podcast ‘Believe You Me’) did a stand-up set before he introduced me, then I came out and told some stories and anecdotes.
“At the end we got the crowd involved, passed the microphone around, and everyone had a great night.
“I thought, ‘I have to take this back to the UK’.”
Bisping certainly has some stories to tell.
He remains the only Brit to ever win a title in the UFC – the world’s most popular mixed martial arts promotion – and lost an eye along the way.
Since retiring from the sport, he has successfully transitioned into a commentary role and has even graced the red carpet, acting alongside Vin Diesel in Hollywood movie ‘XXX: Return of Xander Cage’ and in other movies.
Fairytales don’t often intrude on a brutal sport like MMA, but Bisping’s rise to the top is even more impressive when considering how he started off on the path to success.
As a young dad living in Clitheroe, he worked a string of “dead-end jobs” before giving professional sport one last shot.
“I always give the biggest thanks to my wife because she effectively put her life on hold to let me pursue my dream,” he says.
“Back then, MMA wasn’t a household sport, either. I quit work at a factory, I moved to Nottingham to train, I slept in my car... it wasn’t really a sacrifice to me because I was chasing my dream, every day was exciting and a challenge.
“But she was stuck at home, with two young kids, with bills piling up and no money. We were skint.
“I remember one night in particular, she called me, it was winter, she was crying because she couldn’t afford anything and I was reassuring her, saying, ‘I’ll get a fight soon’. But it was tough, it was really, really tough.
“People look now and see success but you don’t start at that point...it was a very tough challenge.”
His path to the UFC was fast-tracked by an appearance – and triumph – on the reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter.
And while his combative style made him a success in the octagon, he also gained popularity – perhaps even notoriety among some fans – with his acid-tongue quips and brash attitude.
“I know you come across as a bit of a thug, it’s not what you want to do in front of your mother-in-law or grandma,” he says, when asked about the pre-fight trash-talking.
“But at the end of the day, we’re going to fight, and so when we come together – certainly when we square up at the weigh-ins – it’s my last opportunity to try and get in my opponent’s head.
“As a fighter, if you can get that seed of doubt in their mind then you’ve almost won the fight because you’ve got to have supreme confidence as a fighter.
“Another side of it, is promoting a fight. I know as a fan, if there’s a little bit of heat on it, if two guys don’t like each other, you’re more invested in that fight.
“I’ll give you an example, when I fought Luke Rockhold for the belt, the UFC do these conference calls on the phone before the press conference.
“There was me, Luke, and the co-main headliners, and the journalists were asking questions and it was boring as hell. It was cordial and polite and I was falling asleep.
“So I text Luke and said, ‘Brace yourself mate, I’m going to spice things up’, and I went to town!
“Afterwards, there’s always mutual respect – I respect anyone who has the courage to step in there, because it’s a really hard way to make a living.
“My son is a really good wrestler, he’s on a wrestling scholarship at San Francisco State, and he has try-outs for the Commonwealth Games and hopefully if he does that he’ll be representing Great Britain at the Olympics in 2024. People ask me if I want him to fight (in MMA) and I say, ‘No, I don’t. It’s a tough business’.”
Bisping and his family – wife Rebecca and their three children – have lived in California for more than a decade.
But when he discusses the sporting talent from the North West, he talks with pride.
And when he mentions the prospect of “a few bevvies” in Manchester after his show in October, there is excitement.
“Anytime I come home, I absolutely love it,” he said. “It feels like I’m home – which of course I am home. I’m English.
“The problem is I’m kind of trapped here. My eldest son is at college, he has a long-term girlfriend, my daughter is 18 and going to college...I think if we said we were moving back to England the older two would have something to say about it.
“I miss England terribly, all the time I talk of moving back and my wife says, ‘Shut up, we can’t leave the kids’.
“I don’t miss the weather, let’s be honest, but I miss the little things. I miss a good English pub. They don’t do them here – they do sports bars.
“I do miss the sense of humour, even just the phrases.
“I remember one day I was talking to a woman and I said, ‘It’s not the end of the world, is it?’
“And she looked at me seriously and said (speaking in an American accent): ‘Well of course it’s not the end of the world’.
“So it’s good just to be able to talk normally. I get some stick here, people (from the UK)saying I have an American accent but that’s only because otherwise they can’t understand me here – I’m northern, and I work on TV!
“But when I’m home, I can talk in my normal accent.”
Something, you suspect, he is looking forward to doing in Manchester on October 8.
Tickets are available at myticket.co.uk.