UFC's Michael Bisping talks UFC Shenzhen, China and Chicken Feet
Shenzhen is set to host the UFC this Saturday, with Chinese fighter, Weili Zhang (19-1) fighting it out against Brazilian Jessica Andrade (20-6) for the women’s strawweight belt.
The much-anticipated card has brought an array of legends in mixed martial arts (MMA) to the southern city of Shenzhen. One such famous face is UFC Hall of Famer, Michael Bisping, who is commentating on the event at the Universidade stadium.
After a long flight from his adopted home in the USA, I managed to catch Bisping in the Shangri-La hotel lobby. The Manchester, England-born ex-fighter is no stranger to China having fought here twice during his career.
The former middleweight champion has mixed memories of his time in China. Bisping’s first fight in this part of the world was in August 2014, a fight he won via knockout against Cung Le at the Cotai Arena in Macau something he has described as a career highlight.
Bisping taking on Cung Le in Macau, a fight he won by KO (Source: MMA Fighting)
However, his second fight in November 2017, this time in Shanghai, saw him knocked out in the first round to current middleweight contender, Kelvin Gastelum. Bisping famously took that fight just three weeks after losing the middleweight belt to George St Pierre. This bout would also be his last, with the veteran announcing his retirement shortly after.
Despite the bitter memory of the Gastelum loss, Bisping is happy to be returning to China. “Every time I have been here it’s a great place, the people are nice”. Although he confessed, “I haven’t ever had much time to visit as a tourist.” He continued:
“I have seen hotels and arenas in China, that’s it. I am excited to go out and explore. Everyone thinks my job is so glamorous but in reality, it's not. You don’t really get to see much.”
Perhaps with no pressure of an upcoming fight and no weight cut, Bisping could try the finer Chinese delicacies. I asked him if he had ever tried the local favorite, chicken feet, but it seemed he would duck and weave away from it.
“No, I haven’t tried any of the food. Why would I want the feet? I think I will stick with the chicken breast. I don’t want cockroaches or chicken feet, I think I will avoid it.”
Bisping may not be too excited by some of the food choices on offer, but he is certainly looking forward to the UFC event which sees eleven fights and a number of Chinese fighters showcasing their talents.
“There are some great fights on this card. The main event is awesome, Zhang should give Andrade a real test. The co-main event is a great fight between Li Jingliang and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos too”
Li Jingliang is one fighter that has certainly caught Bisping’s eye. “Jingliang for me is the best talent out of China so far.” The Chinese welterweight contender is from Xinjiang province, with a 16-5 record. Coming off a two-fight win streak, this is a big opportunity for Jingliang to put himself into the mix.
After a series of the Ultimate Fighter in China and the opening of a performance institute in Shanghai, the UFC is clearly targeting the Chinese market. On the Chinese fight scene, Bisping was full of praise saying it was “crazy” how much the sport had grown.
That Chinese boom that the UFC is searching for has a big chance, with a huge possibility of a first Chinese champion and only the second Asian one in the company’s history. Zhang, 30 years old, is certainly a fierce opponent for Andrade who is defending the belt for the first time. The Hebei born fighter is on a 19 fight win streak and many have tipped her to take home gold, including UFC legend, Chael Sonnen on his ESPN show. Bisping, on the other hand, would not be drawn into making a prediction.
Weili Zhang and Jessica Andrade face off before Saturday's title fight (Source MMA Fighting)
After retiring in May 2018, the Ultimate Fighter series 3 winner has continued his analyst work and is now moving into commentary, something he has done on Dana White’s Contender Series and at other UFC events. Does being so close to the action ever give him the urge to get back into the ring?
“No, never. I have got too many injuries. I couldn’t fight anymore. Doing the commentary, I love it, it’s a lot of fun and keeps me busy.”
As I watched Bisping hobble towards Shenzhen’s Coco Park it was evident to see the effects of a fighting career on the 40-year old's body. The UFC veteran who has the second-most wins in UFC history won his belt spectacularly, all whilst he had a severely damaged eye. His concern that other fighters don’t have to go through a similar path is clear as he hoped “no fighters go home with any injuries.”
Michael Bisping pictured after winning the UFC belt. (Source: Washington Post)
Despite feeling the aches and pains of a long career, Bisping has shown the blueprint for dealing with retirement, something many former fighters struggle with. Alongside his commentary work, Bisping has had a number of acting roles and also hosts a podcast called Believe You Me with stand up comedian, Luis J Gomez. More recently he is one of the presenters on a new Netflix show, called Hyperdrive, something he is excited to share with the world.
“It’s out now, its been doing great. 30 amateur drivers from around the world, racing on this crazy course, check it out!”
For now, the main concern for Bisping is calling the race for the strawweight belt. Can Zhang become the first Chinese UFC champion and stretch her winning streak to 20? Tune in Saturday to find out.
About the Author: Adam Slater is a journalist who writes for a cryptocurrency news company, Asia Crypto Today. Before moving to Shenzhen, he wrote for local newspapers in England on football and cricket whilst studying for his International Relations degree.