SYDNEY AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 23: Michael Bisping (L) of England and Jorge Rivera (R) of the USA pose up during a Press Conference ahead of UFC 127 at Star City on February 23 2011 in Sydney Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Trolling is a difficult art. Knowing how to rile up your mark, to be ridiculous without being obvious, to understand exactly what will hurt the most - it's not something just anyone can do right. Most fighters err on the side of being a bit too goofy; they aren't capable of playing the bad guy so their tongue must be firmly in cheek at all times. Frankly, no one is buying their act.
Jorge Rivera and his team at Ranger Up are different. They have figured it out, mastered the art, and they don't care if their opponent is in on the act or not. Like the best trolling, their attacks on opponent Michael Bisping have been insistent, endless, and never boring. Most importantly, they've been working. Bisping was furious yesterday at the UFC 127 press conference. And that was according to plan. Rivera had the British star right where he wanted him.
"I’m fighting in the premiere fighting organization in the world and I’m trying to behave accordingly. I’m a professional fighter; I’m not an idiot in the schoolyard, making up silly rhymes and jokes and making stupid videos," Bisping said at the pre-fight press conference yesterday, barely able to contain a perpetual sneer. "...This is a press conference, by the way, Jorge. This is what you do. I know it’s your first time being involved in something like this. Welcome to the big leagues. After this you’ll be back to the undercard, believe me."
On it's face, Rivera's multi-pronged attack on Bisping was just wacky fun. The fake UFC prefight videos, the South Park style skit that featured Rivera in a hula skirt and dressed as an Irishman were hard to take seriously. But they poked just hard enough, in all the right places, to get under Bisping's skin.
Fighters are a sensitive lot; just witness Tito Ortiz's meltdown on Twitter yesterday.They strip to their knickers and get into a cage to bare their souls to the world. Any weakness, any mental instability, a momentary lack of courage - in short the kind of weakness the rest of us try so desperately to hide from even our closest friends - all these things are laid out in the open for the world to see.
Bisping has surely heard the whispers that he was the UFC's British poster boy, carefully protected to help build the sport in the United Kingdom. He knows full well he has a reputation as what Rivera calls a "professional decision maker. And it hurts. The fact that it is a groundless reputation, that he's won six of his UFC fights decisively, only four by decision, just makes it worse.
Clearly Rivera has gotten into Bisping's head. He's hoping the British star will lose his composure inside the cage Saturday in Australia. His only way to win is in a standing war and he knows it. If Bisping is head hunting, if Bisping can't control his emotions, if Bisping makes a mistake, Rivera has a chance at pulling off an upset.
"Some of it was for fun, and some of it was to get in his head and see how he reacts and see what's going on. I’m cool with it," Rivera said. "... I'm ready whenever you're ready. I’m done talking."
We've seen a similar strategy work before. Dan Hardy had Marcus Davis tied in knots, calling him a "plastic paddy" before their grudge match at UFC 99. Hardy took home a split decision and afterwards admitted he had nothing personal against Davis. He just wanted to throw him off his game. It's a game of inches and maybe a little mental warfare was the difference in a closely fought win and a disappointing loss.
But this game can also be a double edged sword. Remember Ortiz playing this game with Chuck Liddell in 2006? Or Ken Shamrock trying to get one up on Tito? The result can also be devastating for the trash talker. Especially if, as Bisping believes, the victim is the superior fighter.
"I want to do most of my talking on the night. I’m going to do my talking with my fists, knees, elbows, jiu-jitsu, and wrestling. Half of that stuff he doesn’t know what it is," Bisping said. "Jorge is a throwback to the beginning of mixed martial arts. I’m a complete mixed martial artist and I’ll be showing him that on the night. I’ll be doing most of my talking then."
After the Jump, the videos that got Bisping so riled up
Jorge Rivera vs. Michael Bisping UFC 127 Interview Leaked!!! (via RangerUpVideo)
Jorge Rivera versus Michael Bisping at UFC 127: The Tale of Count Bisping (via RangerUpVideo)
Jorge Rivera versus Michael Bisping at UFC 127: Formal Apology (via RangerUpVideo)
127 RAW BISPING RIVERA (via UFC)