(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Michael Bisping was fired up Saturday night in Australia. He had stewed for weeks, angry over a series of videos in which opponent Jorge Rivera had mocked his country, his ability, even his very standing in the fight game. The bout was the semi-main event of the evening after all. Who was Rivera to make light of him anyway? They weren't on the event poster because of Rivera's big wins over Rob Kimmons and Nissen Osterneck. They were there because he was Michael Bisping: reality star and contender.
"He was very insulting toward me. He was mocking me on the Internet, talking about myself and my family. But it built up inside me, and I blew up a little bit, so I apologize," Bisping said at the post fight press conference. "They definitely motivated me and made me work harder. Trash talk is part of the game, and I let it get to me too much. But I’m an emotional guy. Everything that comes out of my mouth comes from my heart. I am who I am. He embarrassed me, mocking me all over the world. But I should have been the better man and taken that on the chin a little better."
It all boiled over in the cage. Bisping had tried to be the bigger man. He honestly had. He had pleaded with Jorge to end the games and the taunts, proclaiming himself a professional who was above childish games. But it burned and Rivera only upped the ante, producing an "apology" video that was perhaps the worst yet.
The mature thing to do was to walk away. Mature, maybe. Impossible, surely. The two men were tied together now professionally. Bisping couldn't walk away if he tried. No matter what he did, the two men would be inexorably drawn together February 27th in Melbourne.
And so the rage built, built until it couldn't be contained any more. He decimated Rivera, a result that many in the industry found unsurprising. Included in what was a true display of mixed martial arts prowess was a knee to the head of Rivera while the Boston based fighter was still on the ground. He was penalized for his misconduct, docked a very valuable point on the judges' scorecards. Rivera was given time to recover and both he an the ringside physician proclaimed that he was ready, willing, and able to continue.
Rivera came out of his recovery time guns blazing. It made little difference as Bisping was the better fighter on this, or likely any, night. After finishing the fight in the second round he turned his attention to Rivera's corner men, particularly Matt Phinney who had been particularly vocal and active in Rivera's video campaign. Spitting on the ground near the Rivera corner, Bisping let them know what he thought of the team and their tactics. They had been designed to anger him and take him off his game. Anger him they did; take him off his game less so.
After the fight, Rivera's team went back on the offensive. To them, the punishment for Bisping's in cage behavior didn't fit the crime. In a statement released to the media Sunday, Alchemist MMA called for Bisping to be penalized by the UFC, the athletic commission, by somebody - anybody would do:
Michael Bisping’s conduct in the Octagon at UFC 127 was unconscionable, unprofessional, and smacks of a man with no morals or character. During the first round of their fight, Jorge Rivera had BOTH knees on the canvas when Bisping stopped, sized Jorge up, and delivered a massive knee to a vulnerable and downed opponent. This knee was illegal and clearly intentional. The rules that govern the sport are in place to protect the health and well being of the fighters. Bisping blatantly broke these rules and there has to be accountability. A professional fighter knows when to pull the trigger on a strike and when not to, so for Bisping to say he did not intend to throw the knee is disingenuous.
Bisping’s conduct after he was awarded the TKO is not acceptable. Taunting and spitting at and on Jorge’s coach Matt Phinney is the deplorable conduct of a school yard bully. Like all bullies Mr. Bisping needs to be punished. In this instance it would be appropriate if Bisping is fined and suspended by the athletic commission and/or the UFC.
I couldn't find a record of any fighter in UFC history suspended by the athletic commission for a foul committed during competition. Bisping was punished for the illegal knee. Per the Unified Rules, an important point was taken from him, something that could have been the difference between a win, a draw, and a loss. It was more than sufficient.
His anger after the bout was understandable. As Showtime's Gus Johnson might say, sometimes these things happen. I remember attending a military event once that had service members in attendance from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. The Marines were loud, drunk, frankly obnoxious. I remember wondering aloud to my boss about why they were able to get away with behavior that was untoward at best, embarrassing at worst.
"We need a certain kind of man to do the ugly work," he told me. "To be a marine, to do what we ask of them - we can't demand they be choir boys too."
Cage fighters are doing the ugly work as well. A bit of emotion is acceptable, even a little exciting. Bisping got it out of his system, recovered his cool, and apologized for his outburst. He's not a robot and after Rivera upped the ante on the fight, professionalism was out the window. Bisping's postfight rampage was the yin to Rivera's prefight antics yang. It's time to move on.