Ex-champ Michael Bisping eager to put title loss to Georges St-Pierre behind him

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Michael Bisping, shown kicking Georges St-Pierre on Nov. 4 in their middleweight title fight in New York, returns to action Saturday against Kelvin Gastelum in a bout streamed on UFC Fight Pass. (Getty Images)

To an outsider, it appears that Michael Bisping may have walked into a trap. He’s coming off a disappointing defeat on what has been hailed as the greatest card in UFC history to arguably the best man who has ever done it.

It was a fight with extraordinary attention and proved a massive payday. Just three weeks later, he’ll headline the UFC’s first card on mainland China against a gifted young fighter desperate for a victory over a proven commodity in order to establish himself as a legitimate title contender.

But Bisping, who lost his middleweight belt in the main event of UFC 217 when he was choked out in the third round by Georges St-Pierre on Nov. 4 in New York, doesn’t quite see his fight on Saturday in Shanghai against Kelvin Gastelum the same way that others do.

“This is more about me exorcising my demons and getting back into the win column,” Bisping said of his reasons for taking the fight on short notice against Gastelum when a failed drug test sidelined Anderson Silva.

Bisping insists he had a great training camp for St-Pierre and was confident all along that he would win. Nothing in the fight surprised him, he said, and he has no excuses. He mentions a wrist injury he suffered on the last day of training, but doesn’t point to it as a reason for his loss.

He simply didn’t perform the way he had prepared to do. So the opportunity to face Gastelum was an easy choice.

“Honestly, I had a tremendous training camp and I felt like I’d gone to another level, and it’s disappointing I didn’t show that in the fight,” Bisping said. “And, look, you’re only as good as your last fight and I am coming off a loss. So this is a chance for me where I can take advantage of that training camp I had and put that loss behind me and get back into the win column. I think it’s a great spot for me.”

Against St-Pierre, Bisping was facing a welterweight who was moving up to middleweight. With Gastelum, it’s the opposite. He’s a middleweight who would prefer to fight at welterweight.

But Bisping sees plenty of similarities in them, though he’s not about to put Gastelum on the same level as he does St-Pierre.

Bisping concedes he was too concerned with St-Pierre’s takedowns going into their fight, and Gastelum is also a wrestler, but that’s where the comparisons end in Bisping’s mind.

“He’s a poor man’s GSP, I think you could say,” Bisping said of Gastelum. “Georges is a better version of Gastelum. He’s got better takedowns and better jiu-jitsu on the ground. Against Georges, I was able to get back to my feet whenever I wanted. So in this fight, I can’t let myself fall into the same trap. I’m just going to go forward and not worry about the takedowns.

“I’m not going to be wrestling, but I can’t let that be at the forefront of my consciousness. I’ve just got my fight. I’ve got a distinct reach advantage. I think I’m faster. Kelvin’s great. He’s good. He’s young. He’s strong. He’s got a good chin. He hits hard. He’s got good wrestling. But if I go out there and fight to my ability, I think I beat Kelvin all day.”

That, in a nutshell, is why he took the fight. It’s why he accepted a bout against Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 on less than two week’s notice. He’d been mauled by Rockhold in the first fight between them, but eagerly took the title fight when it was offered even though he didn’t have a training camp.

He points out that everyone he encountered questioned his decision to accept the bout without proper time to prepare.

“Everyone said I was going to get killed and that I didn’t have a chance, and look what happened there,” said Bisping, who knocked Rockhold out in the first to win the middleweight championship in one of the great upsets in UFC history. “People forget, but I’ve been down this road before.”