Saturday night, Michael Bisping will look to defend his middleweight belt for the second time when he takes on former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at the legendary Madison Square Garden Arena in the main event of UFC 217. It’s a fight that was a year in the making and will see St-Pierre return after a 4-year absence from the sport.
Bisping won the title on June 4, 2016 when he knocked out Luke Rockhold in the first round at UFC 199 and defended the belt successfully against longtime foe Dan Henderson just four months later. Issues with a problem knee would require two surgeries in the first half of 2017, forcing his next title defense to be postponed until the fall. The eagerly awaited return of GSP has been amplified by the fact that he’ll not only be competing for the title, it will be his first fight at 185lbs.
I caught up with the loquacious middleweight champion yesterday for a brief interview where we discussed his legacy, St-Pierre’s drawing power, how his knee has held up during training, the need for more weight classes, the fight he wants to be remembered for, if he’d ever consider a move to the WWE and more.
Stephie Haynes: If GSP loses to you, do you think there’s any situation where he sticks around for another fight, despite him saying he’d retire if he doesn’t win?
Michael Bisping: Of course, going into the fight I’m very confident, but anything is possible. Georges is a fantastic martial artist, but I’m very confident in my ability, I’m confident in the match-up, I’m confident in my training and the way I’m performing, so I see myself winning the fight. When he loses—well, he said himself—if he loses, he’s gonna retire, he’s gonna disappear again. When he loses Saturday night, yeah, that may be the last time we’ll ever see Georges.
Stephie Haynes: There’s a lot of conversation about GSP still being this huge star, but the way many see it, you’re doing all the heavy lifting in promoting the fight and seem to be the A side. How much would you say his drawing power has faded?
Michael Bisping: At the end of the day, Georges still has a very big name. When I say I’m fighting GSP, people know who he is, whereas a lot of people that don’t really follow the sport, if you say some other name, they’re not familiar, so people are still very much familiar with GSP.
That said, I agree, I am doing the heavy lifting in promoting this fight. I guess Georges always did it with his skill, but it is four years later and a lot of people that watch MMA now weren’t huge fans of GSP or even watched UFC when Georges was still active. He does still have a big following in Canada and I’m still expecting the numbers to be very good. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m the A side—I am the champion and I’ll be walking to the cage last, but Georges still has a lot of drawing power.
Stephie Haynes: Let’s talk about motivation for a moment. Obviously legacy and money is important, but on a much smaller scale, what keeps you hyped up in the gym and have you ever had problems staying motivated?
Michael Bisping: It’s what I do, simple as that. I like to fight and I’m bloody good at it. That’s why I push myself. Of course, you want to win, you want to be successful, you want to earn money, but you also don’t want to get your ass kicked. I’m the best fighter in the world, I’m the middleweight champion, and that makes me very proud. I want to hang on to that, I want to remain the middleweight champion. You don’t need more motivation than that. At the end of this fight, I’ll either be the champ, or I won’t. People work their entire life trying to become the champion and they never get there. I’ve gotten there, and at the end of it, after this fight, I’ll either still be the champ or I won’t, and that motivates the hell out of me.
Stephie Haynes: Recently, welterweight rising star Darren Till said:
“I ain’t no welterweight. I’m a light heavyweight in the welterweight division. It should be illegal, what I’m doing. The UFC should ban it but they can’t because I do it naturally and I do it professionally, and no one can do a fucking thing about it.”
Are you of the opinion that more weight classes would be ideal, or are things fine the way they are, especially since the commissions have been making a concentrated effort toward making weight cutting safer?
Michael Bisping: Absolutely. I think they should have more weight classes. You’ve got 25, 35, 45 and 55, then you’ve got 70, then to 85, and then from 85 to 205—that’s a 20lb jump while most of the other weight classes only have a 10lb jump. I used to fight at light heavyweight and now I fight at middleweight, so I think it should go 55, 65, 75, 85, 95 and maybe even a cruiserweight division. I know that brings other problems and the sport is still young, but we definitely need more weight classes.
Stephie Haynes: There’s been some buzz around a possible fight between you and Daniel Cormier at light heavyweight. Is that something we could actually see in the near future?
Michael Bisping: DC is awesome. He was saying that he wanted to fight me, but I don’t know if that was tongue-in-cheek, whether he was having a laugh, or if he was serious. I think he was just having a laugh, but I was 15-0 at one point at light heavyweight, so I’ve got no problem fighting him. I just don’t think that’s gonna happen, though. I think he was just messing around.
Stephie Haynes: If you were to look back over your body of work as it stands presently, which fight would you say is the most important one for people to remember?
Michael Bisping: My fight with Anderson Silva is something I’m very proud of. I had to fight through some adversity at the end of the third round, and my last fight, the Henderson fight, he was a punching bag for 25 minutes other than when he caught me with two good shots and even then, I still controlled the majority of it—there were a lot of good fights. The Cung Le fight was great, too. It has to be when I won the belt, though. Yeah, I’d have to go with when I knocked out Luke Rockhold.
Stephie Haynes: You’ve had two surgeries this year on your knee. Have you experienced any problems with it during training camp, or has it been holding up well for you?
Michael Bisping: My knee still gives me problems from time to time, but it’s not injured or anything. It just doesn’t feel good. I’ve had the two surgeries, but it hasn’t bothered me all training camp and it hasn’t bothered me now. When I go for a run, do I feel pain? Yeah, of course I do, but it’s not injured, I’ve just got old knees. I’ve done this for a long time.
Stephie Haynes: Let’s talk about your other career in movies. Do you have projects in the works you can talk about?
Michael Bisping: I’ve got a movie coming out next year called Triple Threat, which is a martial arts movie with me, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White. I’ve also got a movie coming out with Gerard Butler called Den of Thieves, which is a heist movie, and that also comes out next year. Hopefully another xXx movie next year, as well. Fingers crossed, next year will be a big year for me in movies.
Stephie Haynes: With your gift of gab, would you ever consider going the way some other MMA pros have gone and try out WWE if the money was right?
Michael Bisping: Probably not. Well, you never know. Never say never. Who knows, if I’m broke one day, sure. But that’s not the plan, that’s not what I’m looking to do. I’m hoping to take off in Hollywood.
Stephie Haynes: Your son is a fantastic high school wrestling standout and won another medal recently at the Freakshow event. Have you guys begun looking at colleges and if so, is there one you’re partial to?
Michael Bisping: Not yet. I mean, he’s a junior now, so I guess those conversations will start soon enough, but as of right now, not yet.
Stephie Haynes: Any final words for GSP or your fans before Saturday?
Michael Bisping: Thanks to everyone that will buy the pay-per-view and tune in and everyone back home in England. I really appreciate everyone and the support I’ve always had from them. It’s always been incredible.
Georges, listen, I’ve talked a lot of shit, but I know this is gonna be a hard fight. I’ve worked my ass off and Georges has made me raise my game. This is the best version of myself, because I respect him and how good he is. He’s made me improve—I’ve been super disciplined for this fight. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been as disciplined for any fight ever, the way I’ve been for this one.
This is a big deal, and I wish him all the best and may the best man win. If Georges wins, I’ll be the first person to raise his hand. I don’t think he gets the job done; I think I stop him halfway through the fight, something like that. He’s a great guy and I respect him. God bless him, but I’m still gonna look to smash his face in this weekend.