You might know Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight journeyman Michael Bisping as the clean-cut face of British mixed martial arts (MMA), but at one time that face was getting punched in wild "no holds barred" competitions when he was just a teenager.
In 1994, at the age of 15, Bisping participated in several competitions as an amateur, including Britain's first "no holds barred" competition, a precursor to modern MMA, called Knock Down Sport Budo (KSBO). Fellow European kickboxer and UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten sat down to talk to "The Count" on Inside MMA about his time as a bare-knuckle brawler when he was just a baby-faced up-and-comer.
"My Sensei from back in the day, he was a big pioneer -- Paul Davis his name is -- and basically it was mixed martial arts with no gloves. Yeah they had these international tournaments of four or five fights in one night, guys from all over Europe. So I used to compete against grown men. I was 14, 15, 16."
Bisping, now 36, said those early competitions taught him the importance of keeping up cardio in between booked fights. When he was 18 his coach asked him to step in on short notice for a kickboxing title fight after another fighter became injured. Wanting to prove himself, Bisping agreed. But he hadn't been in the gym in six months, admitting he spent most of his time in the pub "chasing girls."
"I went out in the first four rounds, tried to finish the fight. Didn't finish the fight. The next four rounds I got beat up so badly, so bad in front of all my hometown friends and family who'd come to see the fight. Turns out I did enough in the first four to win the fight so I won the fight. It was close but I learned a valuable lesson."
One of UFC's longest serving members, Bisping soon takes his 26-7 professional MMA record up against former UFC Middleweight No. 1 title contender Thales Leites, who is on a torrid streak (five wins) since rejoining the promotion in 2013. A feared and decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Leites has mixed up his game of late by adding knockouts to his repertoire of finishes.
Bisping talked about his chances against the 33-year-old Brazilian.
"Of course you never underestimate an opponent and of course I'm not with Thales Leites. He's very good, he's very good on the floor. His striking has got better. Yes, I respect his skills, but there's nothing that I haven't seen before. You know, typically...guys want to take you down so I'm preparing for that. If he can't take me down his Jiu-Jitsu's not worth anything. Of course if he does take me down I've been in jiu-jitsu for a long time. I hope I don't live to regret this, but I don't see him catching me on the floor."
Bisping cautioned, however, that he won't be so focused on not getting taken down that he gets knocked out by being careless.
"I think if I stick to my gameplan, I fight to the best of my potential, I don't make any stupid mistakes, I think this is a good night for me."
Yes, well, good night has a couple of meanings.
Bisping is set to face Leites in the main event of UFC Fight Night 72 in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 18, 2015. For the complete fight card line-up and latest rumors click here.