Michael Bisping has been there.
Before he became the middleweight champion and eventually a UFC Hall of Famer, Bisping was a fighter who always seemed to get close to the title and the top of his division but was never touted as the best in the world. He was also constantly reminded of that fact thanks to social media, interviews, and hearing from other fighters in his division who were happy to tell him that repeatedly.
Of course, Bisping eventually proved them all wrong when he won his UFC title, but that’s also part of the reason why he understands what Conor McGregor is going through right now.
The Irish superstar sports a 1-3 record in his past four fights with his latest trip to the octagon ending with a broken leg after losing a lopsided round to Dustin Poirier. That was a second straight loss to Poirier after McGregor was knocked out by “The Diamond” back in January.
Since the trilogy fight ended, McGregor has been vocal online while taking numerous shots at past opponents and reacting harshly to anything negative said about him. While he actually ended up in a verbal sparring match with McGregor as well, Bisping believes he knows why the former two-division UFC champion has been lashing out so much lately.
“Fighters, we have to have this self-belief in ourselves that borders on the delusional,” Bisping explained during a recent appearance on The Fighter vs. The Writer podcast. “I guess I had that. I know for a fact when I was fighting, I was always proclaiming I was going to be champ one day. I know not everyone agreed with that, in fact quite the opposite.
“People used to think I was delusional. But you have to have that. You have to have that belief in yourself. If you don’t have that then you’re probably not going to go very far as a fighter.”
Because McGregor is laid up with his broken leg, which means he probably won’t even be able to fight again until sometime deep into 2022, he’s stuck reacting to a lot of negativity being thrown his way right now.
Bisping doesn’t excuse any of what McGregor has been saying but from a certain standpoint, he understands why it’s happening.
“For [Conor], right now, that’s the best way he can deal with losing these fights,” Bisping said. “I’m not making excuses for him, far from it, because I was at the receiving end of some of his bullsh*t recently as well. But I think for him to still believe — and I don’t have a relationship with him, we used to be somewhat friendly, we don’t talk anymore, so I’m not speaking from experience or anything like that, just speaking in general as a fighter — he has to believe in his mind that fight was competitive.
“He has to believe in his mind that he was going to turn it around in the second round if the leg hadn’t got broken. Because if he doesn’t do that, if he accepts ‘I was getting my ass kicked and I probably would have been finished,’ then it’s a chink in the armor. It’s starting to accept that I’m not one of the best in the world.”
During his own career, Bisping faced plenty of adversity, and each time he lost, he was forced to reconcile that defeat in his mind while also building towards his next fight.
That’s where a delicate balance is struck between self-belief and self-realization to grow and evolve from the defeat yet still feeling like things would go differently the next time out.
“Every time I lost a fight, yeah, I would be realistic, but I’d always say ‘well, if I did this differently I know I could beat him’ or ‘this is what went wrong in the training camp, I was over-training, my weight cut went bad,’” Bisping said. “All in all, what are those things? They’re excuses. You make up excuses as to why you should have beat the guy. Right now, Conor’s got the perfect excuse — ‘I broke my leg … I know for a fact in Round 2, I would have come back and beaten him’ — and he’s not only saying that, he believes that. He has to put that narrative out there for the entire world.
“It’s the competitive nature of human beings, certainly of fighters. That’s why it does border on delusional, but I’ve been there myself. You have to have that.”
Despite his recent losses, McGregor is still the most profitable athlete in all of combat sports, which means he’s got all the money he could ever need. But that isn’t a substitute for what he also wants: To be considered the best in the world.
It was less than five years ago that McGregor was clutching onto a pair of championships as the first fighter to ever claim two UFC titles simultaneously and was widely considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Bisping has no doubt whatsoever that McGregor wants to climb back to that position, but perhaps for the first time since he arrived in the UFC, people are seriously questioning whether or not he can do it.
“You’ve got to think about it,” Bisping explained. “He came to the UFC, went on this crazy tear, beat everybody, became a champ, then became the double champ, made tons of money, world famous, all the rest of it. But now that’s all still there, the money’s still there, the fame’s still there, but the only thing that’s not there is beating the opponents.
“The Conor that I used to know, he prides himself on that. There’s a reason he got to where he was. It’s not easy to get to those kinds of heights. When I won the championship, that came from years and years of sacrifice, hard work and dedication. It’s because anyone who achieves that, it’s what they pride themselves on.”
When it comes to the future, Bisping can’t look into a crystal ball to know what’s going to happen to McGregor when he returns to action. That said, Bisping respects that McGregor has so much belief in himself that he can once again be considered the best in the world because that’s the first ingredient to a winning recipe to get there.
“I will say that I respect the fact that he wants to come back and do that,” Bisping said. “He’s trying to become champion again. He doesn’t have to do that. God knows he’s got tons of money, he could go sit on one of his yachts for the rest of his days. He doesn’t want to do that. That you’ve got to respect.”