Michael Bisping on Manc tour date, the age of influencer fights, losing his eye and the biggest moments of his career

He might have punched people's heads in for a living but, boy, does he have a talent for storytelling.

Danny Jones Danny Jones - 14th December 2023

Ahead of his ‘Tales From The Octagon 2’ tour at the Manchester O2 Apollo this week, we had the immense pleasure of chatting to MMA legend Michael Bisping about what fans can expect from the show.

The live panel will not only be featuring Bisping himself but fellow combat sport favourites Paul Craig as well as Salford-born UFC star Tom Aspinall, fresh off his huge victory and interim title.

During the conversation, we got an insight into what the exclusive show is going to be like, a few of the surprises in store, as well as his take on combat sports today, his career highlights and his lasting love for the city of Manchester.

Here’s how the chat went:

Paul Craig, Michael Bisping and local lad Tom Aspinall are coming to the Manchester Apollo this Saturday, 16 December (Credit: Supplied)

So you’ve got your ‘Tales From The Octagon 2’ tour coming to Manchester — for anybody unaware, can you tell them a little bit about what the concept is?


“So, in 2021 I got the opportunity to do a show ‘Tales from the Octagon [1]’ but it was more of a one-man show. I was very, VERY nervous; I’d never done anything like that and it was five or six dates up and down the UK and it ended up being a tremendous thing and the crowd loved it.

In Manchester alone, I think there was 3,500 people there — it was mental, to be honest. Then the promoters asked me if I wanted to do it again and I just thought, well, I’ve told my story so I don’t want to rip people off and just do it again for the sake of it.


“Then I realised there’s a lot of things going on in the world of mixed martial arts; there’s lots of stories, lots of tales about other people, so why not make it kind of a celebration of British MMA and I’ll start the show off by pretty much just taking the p*ss out of a lot of the big names in MMA.

Sounds great and, as you say, among those big names are veteran Paul Craig and newly-crowned Manc champ, Tom Aspinall — how excited are you for these guys to be part of it?

Yes, so after I chat for a bit, Paul and Tom are going to come out and, obviously [Aspinall] just became the interim heavyweight champion of the world. Perfect timing!


So get yourself out, come and meet the champ; we’ll have a drink, take the p*ss and we’re going to delve deep into the mind of both of them, ask some questions, get them to do some silly stuff. I think Tom’s actually going to sing some karaoke as well! I’m telling you, they’re all about it and well up for the silly antics.

There’ll be a Q&A with the audience and then a bit of a meet and greet afterwards as well as some more surprises along the way, maybe even a couple of special unannounced guests for the Manchester show only.

Brilliant. So what is it about these guys and what they’ll bring to the party that made you pick them?

Well, it’s about celebrating their careers in a fun way. What Tom’s just done has just been absolutely phenomenal: that performance last week in New York was just mind-blowing and, more importantly, me, Tom and Paul have all become friends.

I only met them through their MMA careers but our personalities have gelled. They’ve come on my podcast, they’ve got a great sense of humour and they’re nice lads.


As I say, Tom became champion of the world, so that’s a bonus and Paul’s now had his first-ever main event fights now, so both of them are doing absolutely fantastic and that’s how it all came together. Nice. Yeah. It’s almost like you knew that the success was on the cards.

Absolutely, it’s almost like you knew that success was coming. Let’s talk a little bit about that interim title fight.

I mean, I’ve been supporting the pair of them for a long time and I always said Tom was going to do big things; I always said he’ll be champion of the world — I didn’t think he’d make it look that easy, though. If I had to put it in three words they’d be ‘absolutely bloody mental’.

I didn’t think he’d knock out Sergei Pavlovich the way that he did, but I’ve been a big cheerleader of his for a long time now and I’m just so proud of him.

More brutal than ever Bisping predicted.

I’m proud of him, his father, his whole team; how he carries himself, how humble he is, how he represents Manchester and the UK. He’s a phenomenal guy and the same goes for Paul Craig up in Scotland.


I was there ringside and I thought he’d go out there and dance around a little bit — use his speed, use his footwork, maybe wrestle him, take him down — I didn’t think he was going to stand toe to toe, go full Tyson Fury on him and spark him out in 69 seconds. I was doing some analysis on ESPN afterwards and I’d completely lost my voice.

I’m proud of him, his father, his whole team; how he carries himself, how humble he is, how he represents Manchester and the UK. He’s a phenomenal guy and the same goes for Paul Craig up in Scotland.

It really was incredible. What is it do you think about the North West that makes it such a good breeding ground for combat sports?

You know what, a lot of people have been asking me this recently and I asked Tom about it the other day, and I think it’s something about those tough, working-class towns in and around Manchester and NW where nothing’s ever handed to us, but if we’re honest, it’s the same up and down the UK.

It’s not like our upbringing is particularly hard compared to other similar parts of the country, but maybe it’s the weather, you know? It p*sses it down almost every single day and we’re just angry inside and p*ssed off.


I’m not really sure, mate, but I know I’m proud to be one of many [Northern fighters].

And yet, in contrast to that, he said, he said he felt a little bit scared before the fight but that fear is almost like his secret weapon — is that something that you can sort of understand or relate to?

100%, every single fight you go into there’s those nerves and the fear but it’s not of getting punched in the face or anything, we’re scared of failing and, to a certain degree, getting knocked out in front of the world. It’s a little bit embarrassing — I’ve been there, it doesn’t feel good.

Most of us are fighting for our families and it’s a lifestyle that’s just chosen us really, d’ya know what I mean? I left school at 16 and for one reason or the other, this is the kind of cloth that we’re cut from but you still want a career and you want to provide your family with the best life possible.

There’s not as much at stake with your first few amateur fights, obviously, but when it’s who you are and you’ve been doing it for a while or there’s something on the line, losing can be terrible for your career. Titles can be hard to come by — it took me till nearly 40 to get my first one.


Is there a standout heavy hitter or toughest fight that comes to mind? I think I can guess this one…

Of course. The hardest puncher I ever faced is without question Dan Henderson. I fought him at UFC 100. I got sparked out in sensational fashion. I had no idea where I was for ages, I thought I’d lost three months of my life and it’s a long story that I went into it in my book and my documentary and stuff.

I then fought him again here in Manchester (UFC 204) and that was an unbelievable event which went on until gone 5am. The entire game plan was to avoid that right hand, the ‘H-bomb’ as they call it, but he cracked me again in the second round, fractured all my orbital bone and that’s how this left eye ended up being fake.

I could hardly see like in the final round, there was just a little slither of light, so yeah: him without question. As for other fights and standout moments, winning the Middleweight Championship against Anderson Silva in London and then defending it in Manchester, you know, a bit of a homecoming by bringing the belt back here when I was pushing 40, was phenomenal.

I kind of resigned myself to thinking that would never happen and Silva was always someone I wanted to fight. It was a bit of a war, I left that fight covered in blood and had stitches all over my face, but it was fun. It’s nice to have those kinds of battles and he’s an absolute bloody legend.

Trigger warning: NOT for the squeamish.

Yeah, you were 37 at that time and you’re 44 now, how do you think UFC and the sport, in general, have changed since then?

Well, this is one thing I talk about in the show and the short of it is simply that nobody used to know what it was. There was like a small underground kind of cult that were involved in it but the mainstream didn’t have a clue.

I remember signing up to a gym and they asked what I did and I had to say athlete, then fighter, then MMA fighter and this lady said, ‘What’s MMA?’

I had to say cage fighting in the end and she looked at me like an absolute bloody psycho, as if she might call the police and, to be fair, back in the day there were a lot of dodgy people, small-time promotions run by wannabe gangsters, possibly money laundering and stuff like that. It was definitely a sketchy scene.

However, there were always real fighters and real people that were trying to make a legitimate career and then the sport started to skyrocket in America, it got on TV and slowly but surely it started to earn credibility and generate more money, more recognition and attract new fighters. Boxing’s always been there but now MMA and UFC is a path young people can actually consider now.


Yeah, the fight scene in general has changed so much now and one thing I did want to get your opinion on was the whole influencer/YouTuber/celebrity boxing thing. There’s been a lot of them recently — what do you make of it, is it a good or a bad thing?

“Oh god. Well, I don’t think anyone thought that was a good thing when KSI was doing jumping jacks against Tommy Fury. I don’t think that was a good thing — that was a BAD thing.

Someone said it was a robbery and yeah, it was a robbery: anyone that bought a ticket or paid to watch that absolute crap deserves their money back.”

— In case you hadn’t guessed already, Mike had plenty of thoughts on this subject alone…

But I guess you do understand the celebrity world a little bit now with your various projects — presenting, YouTube, podcasting, even acting — is there one you’ve come to favour over the other?


It’s weird, you know; I feel like such a knobhead when people mention the acting [in xXx: Return of Xander Cage] because that just kind of came about by accident. I got offered a movie out of the blue in 2009, so I did some of acting lessons and I was totally sh*tting my pants, but I really enjoyed it.

From there I got a part on Hollyoaks and, obviously, I’m always the bad guy and have died in a lot of different ways but, as I say, even though I feel weird and a bit cringe inside talking about this, it’s a challenge and it’s one I enjoy.

I love out in LA now and have an agent, so I’m sort of chipping away at the side of things. I’ve got a couple of good films coming out next year, Den of Thieves 2 and Red Sonja (that’s my biggest part yet) and hopefully I’ve got another massive one next year, so it’s great. I’ll never say I’m an actor but it’s fun.

As for commentating, I absolutely love it because I’m still involved with the sport and people always ask, ‘Do you miss it?’, and I’m like, well, no, not really because I’m still a part of it.

Love to hear it — and I know you mentioned you’re in America now but you weren’t far from Manchester back in the day were you and even met your wife around here I believe?


Yeah, well just down the road in Clitheroe, so just down the street — about 45 minutes away. I get a lot of stick from people sometimes because I live out in America now and sometimes I have a little bit of a dodgy twang in my accent and they can’t understand me but I’m used to it.

I remember when I was on Ultimate Fighter in 2005/06 they literally used to subtitle me, I swear to God. I’d speak to the producers afterwards and they’d say, ‘Mike, we love the energy and what you’re saying, but you’re talking too quick and you need to, like, overpronounce your words a little bit because a lot of people are struggling to understand you.’

Whenever I say fucking ‘tomato’ I have to slap myself because when I hear it out loud.

And lastly, what are some fond memories you have of Manchester and do you still find yourself up this way every now and again?

I mean, I still come out to Clitheroe because that’s where my kind of where my heart and soul is but I love Manchester. It’s one of the best cities in the world, the people are great — what a sense of humour — and some of my best mates in the world are here. I’m on the phone to Daz Morris, who runs Salford Muay Thai, every day and we’re always out in Manchester grabbing a bite, a beer or just knocking about.


When I was growing up, if you ever wanted to go out for the night, go for a nice meal, go shopping or whatever, it was always Manchester. To us in those small towns, Manchester was like the big smart, proper city and even when I got to America I was happy to rep Manchester.

They used to ask where I was from but no one over there has ever heard of Clitheroe, but at least that gave them a frame of reference and that name means plenty over there.

Read more:

If you want to hear more from the UK sporting legend in person, as well as partners in crime live on stage, there are still tickets left to see Michael Bisping and co. at ‘Tales From The Octagon 2’ on Saturday, 16 December.

It’s happening just down the road at the Apollo and, you heard him: it was brilliant last time out, so we expect nothing less with even more personalities on display.

You can grab your tickets HERE.


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Featured Images — The Manc Group