Issue 200

December 2023

UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping has endured the full experience as a UFC fighter. He’s won The Ultimate Fighter as a fighter and a coach, he’s headlined events around the world, and he became the first UK fighter to capture a UFC title. Now one of the most beloved fight analysts in the sport, Bisping sat down to chat with Simon Head about his burgeoning new career behind the mic.

A UFC broadcast is very slick, very regimented operation. Who has been the biggest help to you make that transition from fighter to broadcaster and being able to plug into a live UFC broadcast and do what you do?

It was a long process. I first started working on Fox Sports back in the day, and I'm very grateful to all the production team there behind the scenes, because that was kind of like my apprenticeship, if you will.

I left school at 16 and I didn’t have a journalism degree, I didn't train for this stuff, you know what I mean? So that was my apprenticeship. Then I started working for the UFC and commentating the UFC. And I'm gonna give a special shout-out to Zach Candito, the Head of Production, and the UFC production team in general. They give us a lot of assistance, a lot of resources, a lot of information. Zach would give us advice and stuff like that, but, more importantly, when we’re commentating, we never get told what to say. But he will say, sometimes, 'What needs to happen right now, Mike?' Just in my ear, 'What needs to happen?' and basically, what he's saying is, you know, just talk the audience through what this person needs to do to get out of that position. So, little advice along the way, and things like that. So, yeah, but just the whole UFC production team, to be honest, and Zach, as a producer in my ear, he’s been very good, because I’m always trying to learn.

Then there’s Jon Anik. I’ve learned a lot from him, seeing how professional he is, and just his passion for the sport, as well. Jon’s the gold standard, he really is. He’s absolutely sensational. 

Outside of that, I look at other people and take inspiration from them, but I try and do it my own way, as well. You can’t just be carbon copies of everyone else. So I like to have a bit of fun, but I like to offer proper analysis, as well. But I can't be serious for too long!

I seem to remember you telling me that you're not a massive watcher of other sports. So I wondered whether you'd studied any other commentators, whether it be in MMA or outside of MMA, to sort of get a sense for what they do. Who have you watched to try and get that inspiration?

No-one! (laughs). I wish I watched sports. I do enjoy sports, I do. I just don't follow any team or anyone. I didn’t even watch UFC when I started getting into it. I didn’t even know what it was. I watched the odd boxing fight here and there, but I don't pay attention to those commentators. I enjoy football, but I don't follow a team. I'm a Manchester United fan, I guess loosely, but I don't follow the league. I do really like basketball, but I don't have a team that I support. And if I go to a game live, which I have done, and I do every blue moon, it's great. I love it. And if I stumble across a game, and I decide to leave it on for 20 minutes, I enjoy watching it. But I don't watch sports. I wish I did, because I can't join in with a conversation with all the lads. I’ll just look at my phone when they’re talking about the game at the weekend! 

So yeah, I haven't had any inspiration, if you will, for certain broadcasters. I think Joe Rogan is excellent at what he does. So obviously, you know, there's been that. I mean, Joe Rogan's just an excellent communicator, anyway. It's weird. I see people hating on his commentary these days, which is just bizarre. I think Joe has such a great way of conveying a fighter’s story and journey, and the consequences, like nobody else, to be honest. I think it's just a case of as you get more and more famous people just want to tear you down and talk s**t. But yeah, I just don’t watch sports.

You did Hyperdrive (a competitive street-racing show) on Netflix. That looked like a lot of fun to do. That was very different to calling a UFC event. How did you find that, and how enjoyable, or difficult, was that? What was your experience of doing that like?

So yeah, as I said before, I started doing pre- and post-fight shows on Fox Sports. And then I started doing UFC Tonight every Wednesday. So I was starting to do a fair bit of TV work, which I was very, very happy with. And then, because of doing UFC Tonight, the producers at Hyperdrive were interested in having me as a commentator. They liked my spontaneity, they liked my cheekiness, my willingness to, you know, be a little bit close to the edge. Stuff like that. But I still had to go to an audition at the Netflix studios. And I thought I did a terrible job!. You know? You're nervous at auditions. But do you know what I think it was that got me the part? There was someone – I think he was filming the audition or something like that – and something went wrong and I made a joke. 'Oh, come on, man! You got one job! You got one job, and you can't even get it right!' And I think it was that (that won them over). In the spur of the moment, I was able to say something funny. 

But the experience was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed it. For anyone who hasn’t seen it – I know you’ve seen it – it’s a wild show. And yeah, I wasn’t even commentating the UFC back then. So I didn't I didn't have experience as a commentator. I had some experience working as a broadcaster, but not as a sports commentator. But I loved it, and I was just devastated that we never got to Season 2. It just cost too much money. 

Would you want to do more of that sort of thing? Obviously, you're doing the acting, and that's going great. You've got the fight commentary, you're doing the desk work. So, from an MMA standpoint, you've kind of ticked all the boxes, right? You've got all of that. Do you have any other aspirations or things that you'd like to try? 

Yeah, absolutely. I'm working on things, you know, with my Hollywood agent, you know, we're always trying to come up with some stuff. And there's been a few concepts that have come through along the way that I've been excited about that never got off the ground. 

This is what my wife thinks – she thinks, as an actor, that shouldn't be my focus. She said, 'Your focus should be on being you on camera, as opposed to trying to be someone else, because you’re really great at that.' And so there's been a few concepts along the way of me hosting TV shows and Netflix actually, you know, said to me to go away and think of a concept for a show and there was some talk of, you know, traveling around the world and doing different martial arts and there's been a few things along the way. So far, nothing's signed, sealed, and delivered. But you know, I love that kind of work.

If they brought back American Gladiators, I can imagine you fronting something like that. Would you fancy that?

Yeah! I would love to! TV hosting, commentating, whatever it is. I wanna do it all!