Michael Bisping’s title victory was the feel-good story of the evening at UFC 199, but it didn’t take long for those good vibes to turn into harsh words once Saturday’s headlining combatants hit the post-fight press conference dais.
After 26 Octagon appearances, Bisping claimed his long-sought-after championship with a first-round knockout of Luke Rockhold at the Forum in Los Angeles. “The Count” took the bout on two weeks’ notice and was a heavy underdog, but he claimed the belt just 3:36 into the fight, avenging a 2014 loss to Rockhold in the process.
While Bisping’s elation in the moment was evident, he bristled at Rockhold’s reaction in the immediate aftermath.
“He was out. I went over to talk to him afterwards, to say, ‘Well done.’ He didn’t have a clue where he was,” Bisping said on Fox Sports 1. “I shook his hand and he was kind of a bit of an asshole afterwards to be honest. Even when I shook his hand he said, ‘I already shook your hand.’ I’m like, ‘Don’t be bitter, man. Don’t be bitter because I took your belt, Luke.’”
Rockhold offered a different take on the post-fight exchange at the press conference.
“That guy is such a dick. You show your true colors after a fight, and that f---ing guy comes up to me [asking] ‘Do you know where you are?’ I f---ing picked you up off the canvas and gave you respect [in our first fight] That guy is a piece of s--t and I want to f---ing come kill him next time around. He’s a just a maggot. Those are true colors.”
That response led to a back-and-forth shouting match that felt much like the war of words that preceded their UFC 199 showdown. Only this time, Bisping was already vindicated by the results in the Octagon. More than that, the victory solidified him as one of the best in the sport after years of coming up short in crucial fights.
“I’ve always knew I was at this level. I’ve had my ups and downs and I’ve lost some fights along the way,” Bisping said. “I don’t want to get into the whole performance enhancing drugs thing, but that was kind of an issue over the years. But I still believed. I still always dusted myself off and built myself back up. I know I’ve had a lot of detractors and a lot of people didn’t believe I was at that caliber. I want to thank those guys as well, they fueled me on and lit that fire inside me. I always knew I could do this. I always knew I had punching power. I always knew I had the ability. Tonight, of course, I got to show everybody.”
According to Bisping, the lack of a grueling fight camp was a blessing in disguise. Instead of fatigue, he felt fresher and more powerful than usual.
“I said going into this fight I think I’ve always trained too hard in the past. I’ve always overtrained. My power was better tonight because I had a shorter camp,” he said.
“I was drinking beer on a movie set filming ‘xXx’ [with] Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, no big deal. The easiest night of my life, the easiest fight, the easiest camp, the easiest payday. Thank you, Luke.”
Rockhold admitted that he might have been overconfident after cruising to a second-round submission of Bisping at UFC Fight Night in Sydney in November 2014. The rematch didn’t go nearly as smooth. A counter left hand from Bisping sent him to the canvas, and when the American Kickboxing Academy product returned to his feet, he was floored again by a clean left hook. A few follow-up punches clinched the biggest victory of Bisping’s career.
“Bisping’s a tough dude, I’ve always said it. He’s a warrior, he’ll hang in there, but obviously I didn’t respect him enough,” Rockhold said. “I was over-committing. I tried something I usually don’t do. I usually don’t commit with the jab. I take my time, I work my way in. I got caught. I guess destiny is real, but it’s not gonna last long because I will have my belt back. I’ve dug myself up from the grave many times. I’m not going anywhere. I’m still on top of this game.
“I guarantee you give me that rematch I’ll put this man away. I will respect him more but I’ll put him away, just like I did the first time.”
With Bisping and Rockhold each holding emphatic victories in their series and plenty of lingering bad blood between the two rivals, a trilogy bout could be looming. For now, though, Bisping will get to enjoy reaching a summit many thought he’d never see.
“Of course I’ve strived for this my entire life. I said it leading up to this fight, I’ve always been a fighter. I really have and that sometimes got me into trouble, but it’s kind of what brought me here in the first place,” he said. “That’s why I took this fight on two weeks’ notice. I believed I could do it. I sparred with Luke before, and I know sparring doesn’t count, but I did kind of wipe the floor with him. In the [first] fight he got lucky, he caught me with that head kick. I wanted this rematch so bad. I wanted a title fight so bad. When the opportunity came on two week’s notice, I didn’t even think about it.”