Michael Bisping Is the Muhammad Ali of "UFC: Full Blast"
After Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) won the heavyweight championship on Feb. 25, 1964, his management team, the LSG, a consortium of wealthy white businessmen from Ali’s native Louisville, Kentucky, tried to fill up the long year between that fight and Ali’s rematch with Liston with publicity opportunities designed to keep the champion in the spotlight and money in his pocket. One of those opportunities came on Jan. 2, 1965, when Ali was hired to be the between-round TV color-commentator for the No. 1 contender bout between former champion Floyd Patterson and Canadian bruiser George Chuvalo. Considering Ali’s talent for grabbing the spotlight and his reputation for tormenting and mocking his opponents—past, present, and future—the champion was on his best behavior that night, walking viewers through each round and repeatedly stating that either man was good enough to both deserve a shot at his belt and threaten to take it. This wasn’t true, of course, and Ali knew it even then, but, as the most media-savvy man perhaps in history, Ali knew no one would pay money to watch him fight someone they hadn’t been convinced could beat him, and he and the LSG knew that the then-exploding medium of television was the best way to keep the American public in touch with you. Ali had even gone so far as to consider guest spots on The Jack Benny Show and Mr. Ed the year before, so dedictaed was he to selling himself. It’s to his eternal benefit and our eternal loss that he turned those gigs down.
In a perfect world Muhammad Ali would have been the color man for every boxing match that aired on television between, say, 1960 and 1975. God knows he wouldn’t have been able to stay on his best behavior for all of them, and just as the sport of boxing and the world of media received a giant jolt of energy from Ali’s presence, so too would he have brought some color and life to the moribund world of boxing broadcasting—a world that had long since ossified into a pleasant but predictable blend of cigar-smoking tough-guy chatter and low-grade poetic reverie. Had circumstances only been different, Ali might have changed the world of sports broadcasting just as thoroughly as he changed the world of sports.
Thankfully we now live in a technological and promotional age that allows for an ease of opportunity that was unthinkable back in Ali’s day. In these days of first-person social media interactions, curated experiences, and à la carte, on-demand approaches to communal events, the idea that the only way we might understand what a professional fighter is thinking about a particular fight is through the consecrated and formalized venue of the official sports-broadcasting booth seems not only antiquated but fossilized. Randy Couture no longer has to join Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan at the official UFC broadcasting table. These days we want Randy Couture on his own—the whole experience, from soup to nuts. We want to know where’s he sitting and what he's wearing and what he’s seeing and how he’s seeing it.
And, of course (this being the age of unadulterated, unmediated, unfiltered, transmitted personal expression), we want to hear everything he’s thinking and saying. Well, maybe not what Randy Couture is thinking and saying, but definitely what other fighters are thinking and saying. And definitely what Michael Bisping is saying and thinking. As perhaps MMA's greatest self-promotion genius, a man who has turned the ostensibly passive art of getting called out on Twitter into an art form and a career booster, a man who never met a sentence he didn’t like as long as it was coming out of his mouth or through his thumbs, Bisping is just the kind of fighter you want giving free expression to his thoughts on camera while sitting cageside at a fight between two potential future opponents. Especially at a fight in his hometown of Manchester, England, when the fight he’s commenting in on is a fight he was supposed to be fighting, before an injury forced him out. Indignation and a persecution complex are fuel to Michael Bisping.
If you’re going to celebrate the self-indulgent reality of the age we live in and the self-promotional reality of the sport we love, nothing could be better than watching a king of self-indulgent self-promotion doing his thing in his own seat, next to his own friends (including fellow master of the art of the sell Conor McGregor), unscripted and given carte blanche for as long as the fight is on. Because only a fighter can tell you that another fighter “looks like a beaten man already” with any authority. And only someone who lives behind the scenes of the sport and who understands the monetary value in waging wars of words and burning all bridges will say something like "[Mark Munoz] is a really nice guy but he’s also one of the most boring people you will ever meet.” And only a man with a vested interest both in the outcome of a fight and a long-since-confirmed belief that self-promotion only exists in the fight game if it comes at the expense of someone else (or everyone else, in Bisping’s case) would dream of complimenting the two men in the ring and then quickly adding that he’d "kill the pair of them … at the same time,” if only he were given the chance. That’s called turning a moment to your advantage.
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