HEYDORN’S TAKE: Michael Bisping needed UFC’s protection and they were nowhere to be found

BY ZACK HEYDORN, MMATorch Contributor

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Michael Bisping of England enters the Octagon before facing Dan Henderson in their UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 204 Fight Night at the Manchester Evening News Arena on October 8, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

I’ll never know what it feels like to lose a fight with millions of people watching. I can only imagine that it’s one of the most emotionally painful things that can happen to a human. As viewers and consumers of the fight game it’s easy to lose sight of and take for granted what fighters put on the line when they step into the octagon each time. Yes, they make a great deal of money when they do, but that can only briefly distract from the emotional trauma that comes with a losing effort.

Stepping in the octagon and losing calls for a different level of sacrifice and leads fighters to many different places. For Conor McGregor, his first loss in the UFC against Nate Diaz focused him. He took his time after it but eventually demanded a rematch in ruthless fashion with the exact same stipulations so he could permanently rid himself of the loss. Ronda Rousey took an entirely different route after her loss to Holly Holm. She battled depression, doubt, and a dwindling self confidence that led her to pull away and hide from the business she helped build.

Michael Bisping is handling his most recent loss differently and more dangerously than both of them. He’s foolishly fighting again. In stunning fashion, Bisping lost his UFC Middleweight Championship to the returning Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217. St-Pierre hadn’t seen an octagon in four years, but at UFC 217 against Bisping, it appeared as if he didn’t lose a step. He looked to be in better physical and mental shape and defeated Bisping in the third round to become the new middleweight champion.

After suffering intense punishment in that fight, Bisping is now slated to take on Kelvin Gastelum at UFC Fight Night 122. The fight is on three weeks’ notice and it’s a massive mistake. Where was the UFC? They ghosted Bisping when his safety needed them. This is a Michael Bisping who is in a dark place after a major loss and made a reckless decision while in a fragile state. By allowing him to fight on this card, the UFC is feeding into that darkness. Instead of protecting their own interests the UFC needed to protect Bisping and not allow him to fight at the Fight Night 122 event.

For one thing, Bisping doesn’t seem emotionally ready to fight again. In interviews since the defeat and since he’s agreed to the Gastelum fight, Bisping has explained his reasoning to fight on such short notice after taking the damage that he did in the St-Pierre battle. To the MMA Hour, Bisping said “The fact that I lost that fight, you know, it bothers me. I know if I had that fight ten times I’d win that fight ten times. I know I would, but I lost to Georges and here we are with this gift from the Gods. He went on to say, “I got a call from legal department saying, ‘Mike, we need to know that you’re there mentally and physically, how do you feel? I said physically I’m fine, but mentally I’m wounded. The only thing that’s going to make that right is if I’m able to fight again. I’m emotionally and mentally scarred, but physically I’m fine.”

The fact that he’s outright saying how mentally wounded he is should have been a wake-up call for the UFC to absolutely not let him take the Gastelum fight. It’s clear that he is not in the proper mindset. Bisping wants to fight as he believes it’s the only way to avenge his loss. At 38 years old that’s a scary kind of obsession. His drive for this is coming from a dark emotional place that at this point may be impossible to escape by fighting again. The UFC needed to protect its fighter here and they didn’t. Michael Bisping clearly is not in a place where he can look at a situation logically and come to a reasonable conclusion. As his quotes highlight, his sole focus is getting back to fighting as soon as he can so he can repair his mental frame of mind. The UFC should have been in that place for him and made the hard choice to protect him instead of using him and his obsession to help them fill a void on a card.

The other issue at stake here is the UFC’s quest to ensure fighter safety. They want it, but they only want it on their terms and when it doesn’t hurt business. Allowing Bisping to take this fight laughs in the face of that quest and makes the UFC look like hypocrites. Just over a month ago, Dana White removed Mark Hunt from a card because Hunt indicated that he was experiencing symptoms of brain damage including having slurred speech, memory loss, and countless sleepless nights. Though Hunt vehemently disagreed with his removal from the event, White told the Daily Telegraph that “My team contacted his management within the first week of learning about these symptoms and offered to fly him to Las Vegas first class to visit the Lou Ruvo Brain Center — which is the best in the world for brain research — to get more tests done. And you know what? He absolutely refused. How can I put a guy with these symptoms he said he’s experiencing immediately back in the octagon without additional tests?”

Did your palm hit you square in the forehead like mine? White pulled Hunt from an event to protect him from himself, but allowed Michael Bisping to fight on incredibly short rest because he’s in a pinch? Hello hypocrisy. The UFC can’t just protect fighters when it’s convenient to do so. It should be a mandate that is constantly in play as they make fights and promote cards.

Throughout his career, Michael Bisping has fought on short notice and has been a guy the UFC could lean on in tough spots. Even if he protested, the UFC owed him one on this. He would have thanked them later. Bisping vs. Gastelum is going to be a hard fight to watch. Watching anyone do anything on tilt is tough. Watching someone fight on tilt is even tougher. The worst part about it is the fact that I don’t believe Bisping will find the peace and emotional repair he is looking for. Coming off a loss like he is, three weeks just isn’t enough time to recharge and recover. It certainly isn’t enough time to recharge, recover, and then train again.

For this reason, Bisping is looking straight into the dark eyes of another grueling loss and a trip further into the rabbit hole and wasteland of fighters looking to finish their careers on a high note. The UFC has seen how many of those stories finish and the endings aren’t happy ones. They know better. For Michael Bisping, they knew better too, but were nowhere to be found.

NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: How marketable is Rose Namajunas?

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