It felt fitting to sit myself down with Michael Bisping’s recently published autobiography, “Quitters Never Win” (Ebury Press, 2019) during the fight week for the inaugural Baddest Motherf----- title fight between Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal. An early star of the Zuffa era courtesy of his brash persona and pioneering status in mixed martial arts in the United Kingdom, Bisping is today remembered as one of MMA’s original BMFers, who against all odds captured the undisputed middleweight championship in 2017 after a decade of competing under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner.
Written by Bisping with the assistance of longtime UFC content writer Ant Evans, the 402-page book is broken loosely into three sections. The first 80 pages deal with Bisping’s early life. They include his upbringing in the working-class town of Clitheroe, 34 miles northwest of Manchester, England; his first exposure to martial arts in the form of Yawara Ryu -- a version of Japanese jiu-jitsu -- and Knockdown Sport Budo; his relationship with his parents, siblings and manager/mentor Paul Davies; his street fight-induced brushes with the legal system; and his related search for purpose in the fledgling sport of mixed martial arts. The next quarter of the book spans between his time on Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” where he emerged as the show’s breakout star and his devastating loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 three years later -- the first of several title-eliminator fights in which he would participate. The remainder of the book chronicles Bisping’s efforts to constantly rebuild himself in the face of defeat and outrun an eye injury that left him partially blind, eventually culminating in his title-clinching performance against Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 and the brief championship reign that followed.
Like many fighter autobiographies, many of QNW’s most interesting episodes come in the opening chapters, which deal with topics that are less well-trodden than the trials and tribulations of his Octagon career. A passage detailing how the 17-year old Bisping navigates a violent home invasion perpetrated against him had me feeling genuinely anxious; whereas his account of a street fight and the associated criminal conviction in his early 20s provide powerful insight into how he turned a propensity for violence that was otherwise an obstacle -- including in relation to enlistment into the British army -- into a means of providing for his family. Bisping’s account of the early years in UK mixed martial arts also imparts valuable insight, from the promotions run by “bench-pressing mobster wannabes” to his efforts to legitimize MMA for dyed-in-wool boxing aficionados and a skeptical British media.
The narrative that follows from Bisping’s victory at the “The Ultimate Fighter 3” Finale over an outgunned Josh Haynes to his unintended swansong against Kelvin Gastelum is less engaging, if only because any true MMA fan is already intimately familiar with his UFC journey. It is nevertheless entertaining and informative to relive some of Bisping’s high and lowlights to the tune of his internal monologue.
Bisping’s account of the Henderson loss and the avalanche of criticism two which he was subjected courtesy of MMA forums is particularly poignant. He wakes up in a locker room with no memory, under the impression the fight with Henderson is still two months away, only to relive the knockout -- in his mind, at the gym and on the never-ending loop of UFC highlight videos -- for months and years to come. Bisping’s battle with a detached retina, stemming from main event loss to a “juiced-up” Vitor Belfort in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2013 is equally disconcerting. What starts as a “grey curtain” obscuring his finger on the kitchen table leads to total blindness in Bisping’s right eye, followed closely by a series of medical procedures that leave him in convulsive pain. The succeeding battles with doctors, athletic commissions and a creeping, inactivity-induced depression make his eventual comeback and career-defining triumphs over Rockhold and Anderson Silva all the more satisfying and inspirational.
In telling his story, Bisping’s cutting wit -- as we remember it from press conferences, interviews and episodes of “The Ultimate Fighter” -- is loudly imparted and perhaps best on display in his description of various adversaries. Henderson’s personality would have left fans “as bored as a pack of midgets in a theme park” if he was given as much airtime as Bisping was on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 9; Jason Miller “possessed all the charm of a burning dog-rescue shelter”; a post-USADA Belfort “sported moobs like a grandmother”; Jorge Rivera’s name sounded like a “floating brothel”; and Rockhold was a “functional illiterate” when it came to reading a fight in real time.
It’s because of Bisping’s propensity for saying mean things and his conspicuous albeit endearing egotism that leaves one reading other passages with skepticism. His accounts of conversations with his former manager and coach Anthony McGann -- who would go on to successfully sue “The Count” in relation to amounts allegedly owed to him between 2005 and 2011 -- seem particularly dubious in this respect, if only because Bisping describes himself as using an “even tone” in disagreements when we know his default is to use a much louder decibel.
So too is the reader left wishing for more insight into the economics of the fight game, with Bisping divulging little about the evolution of the industry or his dealings with the UFC. Given Evans’ long history as an employee of the promotion and Bisping’s well-earned reputation as a company man -- which continues to this day in his analyst role -- this is not necessarily surprising. However, it would have made for a compelling subplot in a book that, especially in the latter sections, feels oriented around providing excessive details of fights most readers would have already watched and re-watched.
Ultimately, “Quitters Never Win” doesn’t necessarily teach us anything that we didn’t already know about Bisping, about his motivation (providing for his family, followed closely by pride), about his dedication and sacrifice (manifest in the many permanent physical ailments which he has carried into retirement) or about his near-sociopathic belief that he would eventually prevail. However, as a tale worth reliving, it is certainly worth your time.
Jacob Debets is a law graduate and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.
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