His fight against Chris Leben at UFC 89 was the only fight that was announced and 60% of the tickets were sold within the first week.
As a result of Bisping, the UFC has a strong following in the UK.
Travel to Michael Bisping’s hometown of Clitheroe and wander into any local gym and say his name. You will be greeted with the same response as if you were mentioning GSP in Montreal.
There are a lot of things to like about Bisping both in and out of the ring. Within it he’s 16-1 with the only loss being at least a debatable defeat to Rashad Evans. His drop down to a more comfortable weight in the middleweight class should give him another title shot in 2009. There are some question marks around his earlier opponents who are not household names to the generally North American UFC audience but watching him against Day, McCarthy and even in losing to Evans he proved he is for real and not just a fighter with an inflated win/loss record against average opponents.
What is even more intriguing is the route he has taken to the UFC podium. He started with Jiu-jitsu at 8 years old. At 15 he competed in a “no holds barred” event in the UK and at the ripe old age of 18 he calls it quits. A year off and he gets the itch to try something new in the fighting umbrella and takes up kickboxing and karate. He wins a couple kickboxing titles (Pro British light heavyweight) and… quits again in 1998. He returns to win his kickboxing title for a second time and then… quits. Legend has it that he then went to work as a postman, tiler, plasterer and yes a DJ. It wasn’t until 2003 that he contacted his coach from his early Jiu-jitsu days and learned about MMA. One day of sparring and he was hooked again.
It’s no wonder that the UK has gathered around their champion and supported his success both in North America and the UK.
It’s also no wonder that those in the exec ranks of the UFC look carefully at Bisping’s fight schedule as they look to ensure their hook in the UK remains a strong, viable title contender in whichever weight class he chooses to compete.
Bisping has been a large factor in the popularity of MMA and the UFC in the UK. It is a model that has worked for the UFC in breaking into Canada with GSP and that they will look to repeat as they expand outside of North America.
There is no quitting in Michael Bisping going forward – and if he considered it for a second the UFC would be there to make sure he stays in the octagon.
Whatever he chooses to weigh, he’s worth his weight in gold to the UFC in the UK market.