The Associated Press
Shortly after Michael Bisping agreed to defend his unlikely middleweight title in a rematch with Dan Henderson, he sat down with his wife to watch the fighters’ first bout seven years ago at UFC 100.
It doesn’t take much to get Bisping riled up, and that defeat still does the trick.
“It’s embarrassing as hell when I watch that first fight,” Bisping said. “I’m skinny as hell. I’m so skittish. I’m mentally, physically beaten in that fight. I was just, ‘Oh God, turn this off.’ I wanted to watch it, but it didn’t resemble me at all. That’s not how I fight. I was disgusted with my performance. I was embarrassed. It was horrible. But we all have it. We all have bad nights at the office. It was a good night for Dan, and it was a bad night for me.”
He didn’t even have to mention the ending: Henderson literally knocked out Bisping with one spectacular right hand, and he punctuated it with a flying elbow onto Bisping’s defenseless face on the ground. It’s one of the most memorable stoppages in UFC history, and it’s the main reason Bisping eagerly agreed when the UFC offered him a chance to make it right.
Bisping (30-7) is back in his native northern England to take on the 46-year-old Henderson (32-14) in the main event of UFC 204 this weekend, making his first defense of the belt that he won at UFC 199 in June with a stunning victory as a late replacement opponent for fearsome Luke Rockhold.
“Dana White called me, and I was still hung over from that fight,” Bisping said. “They were thinking Dan Henderson. I said, ‘Absolutely. Line him up. I’ll knock him down.’ ... He knocked me out. I want revenge. He was on steroids, and now I get to shut him up.”
The 37-year-old Bisping grew into a successful broadcaster and actor even before he upset Rockhold to claim the belt, but he remains one of mixed martial arts’ most polarizing fighters. Many fans love his trash talk and humor in his broad Lancashire accent, while others despise his bravado and cockiness.
Nobody can argue about Bisping’s fight promotion skills, and he has aggressively sold this seeming mismatch with Henderson, who has lost six of his last nine fights and has claimed he’ll retire after this one.
Bisping and Henderson have needled each other for weeks, with Bisping coming down hard on Henderson’s sanctioned use of testosterone replacement therapy before their first bout. Bisping also refers to Henderson as “Captain Caveman, Fred Flintstone. Whatever you want to call him, you can see he is a throwback to the Neanderthal man.”
“I don’t even see this fight as a rematch, to be honest with you, because the two versions of ourselves are so completely different,” Bisping added. “I’m much better. I’ve improved mentally and physically. Dan Henderson, he’s the opposite. He’s not on the steroids. He’s older. Look at the muscle mass he had in that first fight compared to now. It’s like two different fighters.”
Bisping expects to have the English crowd behind him when he fights early Sunday morning — the UFC schedules its pay-per-view fights to run in the U.S. market’s prime Saturday night viewing hours. After a night of carousing and cheering, the fans will be more than ready for Bisping, who now lives in Orange County, California.
The card from 21,000-seat Manchester Arena, which sold out almost immediately, also features veteran Vitor Belfort against Gegard Mousasi, along with bouts for light heavyweight Ovince Saint Preux and heavyweight Stefan Struve.
“I just think there will be more fights in the crowd than there will be in the octagon,” Bisping said. “But I’ll be prepared. Fighting in your hometown brings massive pressure. I don’t just want to be one-and-done. Fortunately, I thrive under pressure.”