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I've long believed that a question or idea that begins from a place of stupidity can, if one follows the chain of logic well enough, end up in interesting, edifying territory. So it is with a recent Twitter spat between Michael Bisping and Deron Winn. On the surface, this seems both silly and irrelevant, a fighter and ex-fighter trash-talking one another on social media. Big deal, right? But on a deeper level, it tells us a lot about the nature of mixed martial arts and what it even means to be a professional prizefighter.
Bro, only 13 times in 15 minutes? Mate I’m old, retired, no knees and half blind. Come on, don’t sell yourself Short, Big guy. https://t.co/3swhU4XQfI— michael (@bisping) December 22, 2020
First, let's provide some background. Winn faced Antonio Arroyo in a 195-pound catchweight affair at UFC Fight Night 183, the final Ultimate Fighting Championship card of the year. Winn was just 1-2 in the UFC and a considerable underdog against Arroyo, who was himself 0-1 in the promotion. After a first round in which Arroyo hurt Winn with strikes, the 5-foot-6 Winn proceeded to take down his 6-foot-3 opponent repeatedly for the remainder of the fight. Winn did very little with those takedowns, inflicting hardly any damage and not going for submissions. Indeed, before he gassed, Arroyo got back up almost immediately each time. However, since Winn’s takedown-heavy approach stifled Arroyo's offense, it was enough to win the final two rounds and the unanimous decision. Unfortunately, this made for dull, repetitive viewing, which is where Bisping comes in. Being one of the commentators, he was the most vocal in sharing his disapproval of the fight in Round 3, flat-out insulting both combatants’ fitness.
In a vacuum, this would be acceptable. Commentators are allowed to criticize what they're watching, even when they're meant to promote the product. In Bisping's case, however, it was all quite disingenuous. To begin with, Bisping is easily the worst commentator for any major MMA promotion. Part of it may not be his fault. He is blind in one eye and has had problems with the other, so in many instances, it’s possible he simply isn't seeing what is occurring inside the cage, and thus gets his description wrong. But part of it is his own incompetence. He is immensely lazy, ignoring what is actually going on in the fights in favor of simplistic, often false narratives to which he clings like a paddle in a ship-wreck. Bisping is also the most shameless shill of anyone currently commentating for the UFC, Joe Rogan included. He will fall over himself praising the abilities of the least skilled, least experienced fighters on the roster, those who would have had no chance of even competing in the UFC before the promotion’s desperate need to fulfill a 42 event per year quota. He does so in a transparently fake, buffoonish manner. Thus, for Bisping to suddenly find his honesty and become critical when commenting on Winn and Arroyo—both of them far better combatants than many he has praised—leaves a sour taste.
Winn wasn't happy and fired off the tweet calling Bisping out and challenging him to a wrestling contest. Bisping responded in kind, mocking Winn as irrelevant and short. On a surface level, Bisping “won” this exchange. His response was funnier and more dismissive, and there were an avalanche of likes, re-tweets, and approving gifs from the peanut gallery. But on a deeper level, the response reveals that Bisping is not only a horrible commentator, but an entitled, ignorant man who doesn't appreciate where he is and his current role with the company.
To see this, let's return to Round 3 of Winn vs. Arroyo. Daniel Cormier, who was five times better than Bisping as a fighter and is 10 times better as a commentator, said a great phrase about his friend and stablemate Winn in the midst of the Brit's derision: “Deron Winn is fighting for his LIFE.” At first, this may seem like hyperbole, but on further reflection, it's true. Had he lost to Arroyo, Winn would almost certainly have been cut from the UFC, having succumbed three times in a row to far from elite competition. And being gone from the UFC, Winn's career would have been in serious jeopardy. The UFC’s major competitors are holding fewer events, signing fewer free agents, and offering smaller contracts in the pandemic era. Winn would also have had an immensely hard road to get back to the UFC. No young prospect at 31 years old, Winn was competing for his fighting life against Arroyo.
We often talk about a fighter's toughness and courage when they're involved in a brutal war of attrition, taking heavy damage. But what about when they're fighting for their livelihood? At that moment, Winn wasn't thinking about being entertaining, or about impressing Dana White and satisfying his love of sloppy firefights while avoiding his hatred of grappling. He was thinking only about keeping his career afloat. He was a desperate man. And given that he was getting beaten up in the striking, the best way to do that was to turn it into a wrestling contest. It wasn't pretty, but Winn showed the grit and toughness of a true warrior in one of the most stressful, difficult situations imaginable.
Bisping can't relate to this. He has no understanding or appreciation of a fighter making close to the UFC minimum, fighting for his career. Why should he? He hasn't had to worry about being cut since winning Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2006 and subsequently becoming good friends with the boss. He has made a lot of money across his professional fighting career, including headlining a major pay-per-view against a returning Georges St. Pierre, and now has a six-figure commentator job with the company, despite how dreadful he is at it. Hell, it was recently announced that he would star in a Hollywood film about boxing. He is comfortable, secure, and wealthy, while Winn isn't.
Responding to Winn in the manner he did, while it earned the Brit plenty of admiring responses on Twitter, was the height of entitlement and ignorance. It was only made worse by the fact that Bisping is retired, so there is no point in starting a feud with an active fighter. It's one thing to be a sarcastic jerk when you're trying to sell pay-per-views fighting against Luke Rockhold or “GSP.” It's another when you're a commentator.
This is not the first time Bisping has failed to understand his role. He has gotten into feuds with both Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal. While the one with Masvidal began when he was still active, it continued into Bisping's retirement and very nearly came to blows on several occasions. Evidently, he hasn't learned his lesson. The wise thing for Bisping would have been to ignore Winn's reply and give him this little rhetorical victory. It's the least he can do for the active fighters struggling to survive at the highest levels of the sport, and befits the actual role of a commentator. Unfortunately, Bisping understands neither.