Cage Rage Champ Bisping Eyes Bright Future

Michael Bisping Article

By Pedro Wrobel Jan 8, 2005
What drives someone to become an MMA fighter? It's a question that I've often been asked, but the answer is specific to the individual. For Michael Bisping, we have to go back to 1987, when he was 8 years old.

"To be honest I first got into martial arts just because of the whole image, you know? Wearing a gi, watching martial arts movies, I just thought it was really cool and always wanted to do it. Remember, this was when I was 8. Things have changed a bit."

They certainly have. Bisping is now the UK's hottest light-heavyweight prospect, bar none. He only turned professional in October 2003 and has gone 5-0 since then, winning every single fight by knockout or TKO. This record includes taking and defending the Cage Rage light-heavyweight title from the iron-jawed brawler Mark Epstein, in two hardcore wars that have already become modern UK MMA classics.

"Winning the Cage Rage light-heavyweight title was amazing. The whole experience was absolutely fantastic, and fighting for a professional, well-respected organization like Cage Rage was just a whole new world for me."

The method by which Bisping came to face Epstein at CR 7 was fortuitous, to say the least. The original fight was supposed to be Renato "Babalu" Sobral against Cyrille Diabate, but when Diabate was injured in training, Bisping stepped up to face the Brazilian destroyer. And then when Babalu pulled out, with only a week to go before the fight, Bisping suddenly found his opponent changed to the then champion, Epstein.

"I'd only seen one of Epstein's fights -- from Cage Rage 6, where he fought Glen Appleby," Bisping said. "All I really knew about him was that he was the former Cage Rage heavyweight champion, and that he'd relinquished the belt so that he could win the light-heavyweight title. That already set the alarm bells ringing in my head. Seeing him fight, he just looked really big, really tough and really strong."

More than that, Epstein is easily one of the most intimidating fighters in the UK scene, a beast of a man, memorably described as having a face "like a murderer."

"Actually, my first impression was one of relief. I thought he was much smaller in real life than he was in my head. That's why I told you back then that the fight was in the bag. It was sheer relief! But actually, it didn't last. It was one thing to ooze bravado at the press conference, to strut around with my chest out, but it was entirely a different thing to step into the cage and see the door locked behind me. It was my first time in a cage and I was definitely nervous."

Nervous or not, Cage Rage 7 was the event that unleashed "The Count" on a hitherto unsuspecting audience. Bisping and Epstein threw leather the old fashioned way, and when the smoke cleared, it was Bisping who was still standing.

"I think I was actually a bit too eager in that first fight. I was bashing him in the first round before he landed that big right hand that dropped me for a moment. I got straight back up, but foolishly threw that front kick that he caught and used to take me down. I was quite worried about being on my back with him there because that's what he likes to do, you know? He likes to ground and pound. But after about 30, 40 seconds it suddenly occurred to me that I was controlling him. Suddenly my confidence came back and when they stood us back up at the end of the round, I just couldn't wait for the next round to start. I knew I had his number and I wanted to show the world. I wanted that title."

Bisping won convincingly that day, but it wasn't enough for some critics. Epstein had only had a week to prepare. Perhaps it had all been a fluke. Bisping's answer?

"I said I'd fight him again."

And he did.

Of course, none of these thoughts of success had crossed the young Bisping's mind on that fateful day in 1987, when a casual decision to get into martial arts led to a connection that still influences the British fighter, now more than ever.

"I started off with a form of traditional jiu-jitsu. The association was called Yawara Ryu, and it was run by Paul Lloyd Davies. He's still my current coach and manager. I've been associated with him since that early age."

At the time, Davies owned and operated a string of clubs around England and one of them was in Clitheroe, Lancashire, where the 25-year-old Bisping grew up after his father, a member of the armed forces, moved the family there from Cyprus.

Bisping started learning his craft from a man called Les Petty, Yawara Ryu's representative in Clitheroe. When Bisping was 12 years old, a disagreement between Davies and Petty meant that the Clitheroe club was closed down. This was a seminal moment for the young Bisping, since it signaled the start of a closer association with Davies.

"My father recognized that Paul was a fantastic coach and started driving me down to Nottingham twice a week to train with him. It was a 130 mile trip each way from Clitheroe to Nottingham. I was always completely knackered at school."

Bisping continued to train with Yawara Ryu until the age of 18. During this time, he competed in the event that would form the foundation for the careers of all the UK's early MMA pioneers.

"Paul used to run the KSBO competitions, and I competed. KSBO was the first MMA event to be held in the country. It was where Lee Hasdell, James Zikic and myself learnt our trade. It started in about 1994."

As it happens, Bisping suffered only one loss in his entire KSBO career, and that came against UFC veteran James Zikic, incidentally the man whom Bisping was rumored to be facing at Cage Rage 10.

"He was a few years older than me. And he had a horrible moustache. Really awful."

Dodgy facial hair aside, Zikic and Bisping split three matches between them, with the younger Bisping winning two, and Zikic winning one.

"I tapped him quickly in the first one with an armbar, then beat him with a rear-naked choke on the next one after about 17 minutes. By the time our third fight came around, James had been training everywhere, learning real MMA and as it happened, he tapped me out with a rolling kneebar quite quickly. I didn't even know that a kneebar existed. But I was in a bad way when I fought him. I'd been drinking the night before and it all caught up with me. Lack of discipline. Wouldn't happen now."

The truth is that it won't happen at Cage Rage 10 either, but the match is a possibility for Cage Rage 11.

"I'll actually be training abroad in February -- this is something that we've had planned for about a year now, but for one reason or another we've not had a chance to do it yet. We're planning to go and train for about four weeks -- two weeks in each training camp. Paul is trying to sort me out as we speak -- I still don't know exactly who we'll be training with. From what Paul says, it looks like the first two weeks will be spent with Renzo Gracie's team in New York. After that, maybe we can visit the American Top Team. Paul Daley's been in my ear about it since he came back from there and I might have to go just so that Paul will finally shut up."

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