When Michael Bisping was sitting up at the dais at UFC 217's post-fight news conference, face swollen and cut from a tough loss to Georges St-Pierre that cost him the UFC Middleweight title, no one could have predicted he would return to the Octagon a mere three weeks later.
Bisping was disappointed and reflective on falling short in the biggest fight of his career, admitting he was "crushed inside" and revealing how he didn't want the site of him unconscious from a St-Pierre rear-naked choke to be his his final image in the cage. All signs pointed to a March retirement fight in London for the Brit, but then Anderson Silva was flagged with a potential doping violation, and everything changed.
The UFC needed an opponent to fill in for Silva vs. Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night 122 card in Shanghai on just 14 days notice. The event marks the organization's first venture into mainland China, and a marquee name was needed atop the lineup. Bisping, who has been a company man through and through since his UFC debut more than 11 years ago, answered the call without hesitation.
No one in UFC history has ever headlined two fight cards in the same calendar month, and at the highest level of the sport, two fights in 21 days is rather unprecedented. Bisping says he's all-in on it, though, and is eager to wipe the bitter taste of defeat from his mouth after the St-Pierre fight.
"Obviously (UFC 217) didn't go my way, so the best way to rectify that is to get straight back on the horse, so to speak, and try to get back in the win column," Bisping tells Rolling Stone. "Physically I'm totally fine, 100 percent fine. Mentally, of course I'm a little bit numb so I want to rectify that and exorcise my demons. Best way I do that is to get back in the ring and fight again."
Bisping's courage and fighting spirit is admirable. Three weeks ago he was a champion atop the MMA world going into the biggest fight card of the year at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Now he's just days away from competing in China on a fight card that will stream in the middle of the night in North American on UFC Fight Pass, the promotion's online-subscription service.
Bisping's reasoning for taking the fight is perfectly understandable. He wants to move on from the St-Pierre bout, but perhaps even more than that, he wants to satisfy his competitive urge. "The Count" has more than six hours of UFC cage time to his credit and will be making a company record 29th walk to the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 122. And of course, the payday isn't bad, either.
"At the end of the day this is what I've done my entire life and when it's short notice it does take a little bit of the pressure off," Bisping says. "(Before) I had the belt. That does bring extra pressure. Now it’s not about maintaining the championship. Now it’s just about going out there and having a good fight. I've been doing this my entire life. Realistically, I don't see how I could've turned this down. This is a win-win situation for me. I get to go out there and get back in the win column, get to put on a great fight, remind the world what I’m capable of, and I get paid again. So, it’s all positive from my perspective."
The elephant in the room, however, is whether Bisping's health is really as good as he claims. Bisping suffered multiple facial lacerations, was knocked down with a punch and also choked unconscious by St-Pierre at UFC 217. He was given a 30-day medical suspension by the New York State Athletic Commission, which sanctioned the event, for damaged sustained in the contest.
UFC Fight Night 122, of course, comes just 21 says after Bisping vs. St-Pierre. Medical suspensions are largely precautionary and can be waved with a doctor's clearance, which Bisping says he's received. Because of that, Bisping is adamant there should be no concerns about the status of his health going into fight night.
"I'm physically, 100 percent, A-OK, totally fine," Bisping says. "It's a walk in the park. I'm cleared medically, but the UFC just wanted to make sure that I'm fine, which I am, and that's that."
For Gastelum, a rising Mexican-American star for the UFC with quick hands and knockout power, this is all gravy. He went from being scheduled to fight a legend of the sport in Silva to another one in Bisping, who at this time has a superior ranking in the 185-pound division.
"It's an advantage career-wise," Gastelum says. "Mike is obviously a former champion and he's highly ranked and his position in the UFC is very high so this is a great move for my career. He's fresh off his title fight with GSP. I feel like this is an even better fight for my career and I expect it to be a tough fight."
In classic fashion, however, Bisping doesn't care about what the fight means for his opponent. Whether it's on one days', one weeks' or one years' notice, Bisping is heading into the Octagon with the same intentions and motivations. So of course, this time is no different.
"I'm doing this for myself," Bisping says. "Yes, it's great, I'm helping the UFC with a hard position, but I'm doing this for me. I don't fight for anybody else. I'm doing it for me and my family, my wife and children. Of course, Kelvin needed an opponent. I'd be lying if I said I'm doing this for Kelvin. I'm doing it for me, my wife and kids – so that's about it really."