All the classic TV shows have a hero and a villain, two forces that are in direct opposition struggling for power. Mixed martial arts is no different, and the 14th installment of The Ultimate Fighter promises the same, with American coach Jason “Mayhem” Miller and British counterpart Michael “The Count” Bisping vying for supremacy.
Bisping has been in the TUF situation before, once as a competitor and another as a coach, and on both occasions he has been happy to assume to role of the bad guy, but it does grate on him sometimes.
“There was a lot of backlash from the last time I was a coach on the show, but I can’t personally see the big deal,” explains the Briton.
“I regret doing the water incident with DaMarques Johnson, even though he had been on at me constantly, but I wear my heart on my sleeve and for better or worse, I don’t play up for the cameras. I just be myself.”
The key thing is, for all the negativity that may have surrounded him on the show, Bisping’s team managed to get three out of four fighters into the finals, and those are stats you can’t dispute.
“Obviously you play some mindgames and get one up on your opponent, because it is a competition, but I have matured and grown up since last time and I hope that people will see that I care about these guys on my team and I gave it my heart and soul.”
Having gone through the mill with the roles of fighter and coach, Bisping is well aware of the grueling schedule and nature around the six-week filming process, he feels that this has given him an empathy with what the latest contestants had to go through, as it isn’t easy.
“There were a few things I wanted to consider this time around, despite having secured the best training times straight away. I took into consideration the schedule and tried to make sure my guys didn’t over-train as that is worse than being unprepared.”
And how did he go about this?
“We had some chill time, sessions off here and there, rather than just a day, sometimes we took an entire weekend, sat around, watched fights together and took it easy,” he recounted.
“I needed the break as much as they did. What you have to remember is that this is a lot of work. It’s a real grind with four to five hours of filming a day, training, cutting weight, coaching the fight, dealing with the fallout, and then doing interviews. It’s not as simple as it looks onscreen.”
Of course, with emotions getting frayed with the training, interviews and so on, he still had to deal with an antagonist in the shape of Miller.
“When we started filming I thought he was okay, but now I don’t care for him too much. You have to remember that our fight is a long way off, so although you play mind games, you have to put your own situation to one side and focus on the guys, put my issues to one side.”
With the UFC pushing lighter weight categories following the integration of the WEC, it may seem strange to have a couple of big middleweights leading the task of training these guys.
Featherweights and bantamweights are the classes and Bisping is fine with that, although initially he had his reservations.
“At first it was a little bit of a problem. I was disappointed in the categories because I like to be hands-on and get on the mat and it wasn’t as much of an option this time round because the guys could end up getting injured. So it was good to move into more of a true coach kind of role and look at the bigger picture.”
Having had a different vantage point this time around, the Briton feels that it has benefited the team more. He knows that there will be some fights won and some fights lost, but overall they bonded well, with no notions of unrest or divisions within the camp.
Typically, fighters form a strong bond with their own fight camps and become a sort of brotherhood. Bisping has this with the Wolfslair and the bond runs very deep indeed. Taking what are effectively strangers into your team and building trust is always a hard process, but if the process works and you are all honest, the bond can be quite solid and stand the test of adversity.
Bisping developed a sense of brotherhood with the process and hopes that the viewer understands that the wins and losses affected him as if they were his own.
“The guys on my team were lunatics. We had some great times, great drama, and worked very hard, but above all, they were super-talented and had an amazing skill level to start with. I was very impress with them from the offset and just had to concentrate on managing the process. These guys are all true fighters, and win or lose, we were all in it deep together.”
With the show debuting on Wednesday night in the U.S. on Spike TV and Thursday night in the U.K. on the FX channel, the middleweight contender doesn’t have long to wait in order to see how the show will be perceived. He knows that he will have fans and detractors in spite of what he gave of himself on the show, but insists that fans have to view this in the same way he did, that it isn’t about Miller or himself, it is about the fighters that are going to become the next batch of contenders in the UFC.