ST. LOUIS — Being told you can't do something, or that you'll never be good at this or that, can be the best kind of fuel for a person. It's as if another blockade has been constructed in front of your goals by an unseen force or stranger, but instead of retreating, you find your body pushing forward more. Adversity breeds hunger. Just ask Michael Bisping.
The retired MMA legend wouldn't have broken countless records and made repeated comebacks if he had listened to his critics and haters over the years. He wouldn't have become Britain's first UFC champion if he had given in. That's what makes his story incredible, the unlikely nature of his journey and how hard he had to fight just to prove the naysayers wrong.
Going into "Bisping," the smashing new documentary on the fighter's personal and professional life from the hitmakers at ScorG Productions, I knew very little about the man outside of his ring accomplishments and occasional headline-grabbing antics. There aren't many big league fighters who can go from the heel (the much-hated bad guy) to the one people are rooting for in the last stage of your career, but Bisping did it. And he did it his way, something the doc makes very clear.
It's unconventional and very personal, just like the "Trejo" and "Cujo" documentaries that Adam Scorgie, Shane Fennessey and the producing team made previously. They take a person or subject, such as fighting in the NHL or a criminal turning a violent life into a worthwhile one, and carve an emotional theme around it. From there, the subject takes you into their orbit.
Here's something you may not know about Bisping: He fought the last half of his career completely blind in his right eye. Multiple title matches, title defenses and headlining fights under the UFC label with only one eye. As guest interviewee Vin Diesel notes towards the end of the movie, not even Muhammad Ali could have fought with one eye. It puts him in another class of elite fighters, but it just goes to show you how his level of toughness was on another level than most competitors. Esteemed MMA journalist Ariel Helwani said, "Bisping is tougher than a $2 steak." How tough? His dad was a sniper for the British government, and Michael grew up on a military base in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Clips from "Rocky" movies are shown throughout the documentary, and their presence is no joke. Bisping relates his story very closely to the fictional Rocky Balboa, who endured years of damage and adversity while doing the most improbable things. The fighter takes you inside the Octagon multiple times to relive some of his biggest wins and losses, with a vulgar and witty flair. In one sequence describing finishing an opponent off, Bisping recounts the final moment of putting him away. "He goes down and starts to get up and I say, "oh no you don't." Since there were no rules to his career, he treats the documentary the same way.
Bisping's dedication to his family runs deep, even when it comes to talking about rough times. When asked to describe a lively and at-times tumultuous childhood home life, Bisping respectfully declines, not wanting to throw his parents under the bus. It's a very real moment in the documentary where the fighter feverishly decides in the moment to own his past and not reveal all of it. For as much profanity and boisterous statements that fly out of his mouth, Bisping's dedication to his family is limitless. He's had the same fiery woman by his side for the majority of his fighting career, and recalls stories of his hometown with passionate regard. Hearing his grown son talk about his dad fighting and how Michael fought endlessly as a kid only strengthens the more humanistic aspects of the movie.
He hides very little in his conversations, making the experience a valuable one for any fight or sports fan. It's a long-form conversation-type documentary with rock and roll music at the onset, a relentless in-your-face pace throughout, and a punk rock mentality that extends to others around him. He may have done things in a different way, but the respect that other fighters have for him is sacred. Hearing Rashad Evans tear up when talking about Bisping's career sums it up well. Love or hate him, faced him or not, you had respect for what he accomplished.
Along with Diesel and Evans, there are many guest stars here who talk about Bisping, including but not limited to: Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian, Bruce Buffer, Dana White and Miesha Tate. Joe Rogan talks bluntly about doubting Bisping at certain ventures of his career, while B-movie action star Scott Adkins teases him a bit about stealing one of his movie roles. During his breaks from fighting, Bisping took on a bit of a film career, which is also how he met the "Fast and Furious" star. If you can fight for real, Hollywood loves for you to fight fake for them.
After all, his career is very cinematic, not that any actor would be bold enough to play him. Bisping won a title match at 38 years of age, a time when most fighters have hung up the gloves or are busy commentating about it.
Great documentaries find new and fun ways to inform viewers about a subject they may not know a lot about. What I learned from "Bisping" is that he is tougher than most people who choose combat for a living, and that he earned it more than most. Find the movie and give it a watch. Try not to feel your own built-in adversity start to buckle and pry open as you see Bisping destroy obstacles placed in front of him.
Yes, he can beat you up and your dad, too. But he's got a great story, and that makes a worthy doc.