INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The beer in Michael Bisping’s hand was neither his first nor his last of the night. He savored every sip between his soliloquies deep inside the Forum, the UFC middleweight title belt gleaming in front of him.
After 26 fights in a decade with the UFC, Bisping had just beaten Luke Rockhold in the first round. At 37 years old, the motor-mouthed English bad boy was a UFC champion.
Many men would be speechless. Not many men are Bisping.
“Ten years and I never got a title fight, and then I just knocked this bum out in the first round,” Bisping said while Rockhold glowered a few feet away at the post-fight news conference.
“I’m just going to relish this moment. I’m going to ride the crest of this wave. I’m going to have a few drinks. I’m not going to ... walk around with this [belt] on constantly, but I do envision the mother of all hangovers coming my way pretty soon. After that, once I drink some water, take a couple of ibuprofen to get rid of the throbbing in my head, I’ll take a look at the landscape and see who wants knocking out next.”
No, Bisping’s arrogance and boorishness didn’t vanish when the belt went around his waist, as evidenced by the homophobic slur he apparently muttered — and then immediately regretted — after Rockhold refused to shake his hand.
But at the biggest moment in his career, Bisping also was reflective on the path that led to a title.
“I do believe in the universe putting it all together,” Bisping said. “I worked my life toward this. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I quit work when I had a wife and two kids and we had no money. We were broke, but she supported me. I moved away to another city. I remember sleeping in my car and trying to open the door with this much snow on top of it, trying to break my way out of the car just to go train in the morning. People don’t know the road I’ve been on.”
Until this late-notice fight, Bisping had always fallen just short of getting a title shot, particularly in losses to three fighters who legally used steroids back when the UFC allowed testosterone replacement therapy. Bisping was stunningly knocked cold by Dan Henderson at UFC 100, and he lost title eliminators to Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort.
But Bisping has a firm place in the sport’s history now.
His victory was the 19th of his UFC career, tying longtime welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre for the most wins in the promotion’s history. His 15 middleweight victories are a record for the weight class — even more than long-reigning champ Anderson Silva, who lost to Bisping in February.
And at the biggest moment of his fighting life, Bisping was brilliant. He was helped by the enormous confidence of Rockhold, who acknowledged wading forward with no respect for Bisping’s striking ability, only to get clocked with two devastating left hands.
Even Bisping’s son didn’t think he would beat Rockhold, as captured by the UFC’s promotional cameras before the fight. Bisping took the matchup on just over two weeks’ notice as an injury replacement for Chris Weidman, leaving his job as a bad guy in a new Vin Diesel film to head home to Southern California.
Bisping’s charismatic personality played a role in getting the fight. His fists made him a champion at last.
“Yeah, I know I’m a loud-mouth idiot at times, and I can be a [jerk], I know I can,” Bisping said. “But I’m just out here trying to look out for my family and look out my children, and give them the best life possible with the only way I know I can. This is what I do. I fight. I don’t do anything better than go up and fight.”
Bisping realizes many people will expect his reign to last only as long as his next fight, which could be a third bout with Rockhold or a showdown with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, the top Brazilian contender.
But after a vacation with his family in a rented villa in Thailand, Bisping will figure out his next step — and maybe even act a bit more like a champion.
“I’ve acted like an idiot, but I’ve grown and matured in front of the world, to be honest,” Bisping said. “I know I’ve said things. I look back and I cringe at some of the things I’ve said in the past. I might cringe at some of the things I’ve said tonight. That’s just how I am. I hope to learn from my mistakes and try not to make the same one twice.”