Michael Bisping is known around the UFC for his superior cardiovascular fitness.
Or "gas tank," as the charismatic British fighter likes to refer to it.
"To be honest, it just comes from hard work. I was never a particularly gifted athlete at school, but I¹ve always been strong-minded," he tells Sun Media in a one-on-one interview at a Sport Chek-sponsored media event at Champions Creed Mixed Martial Arts prior to the recent UFC 149.
"If you’re going to fight in the UFC, then you’ve got to train for it. And no one trains as hard as me. I want it real bad."
Bisping, however, admits he hasn’t always fought on a full tank.
During his kickboxing career more than a decade ago — several years before he broke into the UFC — Bisping agreed to take a fight as a last-minute stand-in when another kickboxer was suddenly forced to withdraw.
At the time, Bisping had been slacking off with his training.
"I think I ran twice and shadowboxed a little bit," he recalls. "I was 21, so I had been partying and drinking."
But Bisping didn’t want his coach to know that, so he signed on for the eight-round kickboxing match with only a couple days to prepare.
"The first four rounds, I beat the crap out of him — and then completely gassed," the 33-year-old remembers. "The next four rounds, I got the absolute living crap kicked out of me. But I managed to survive it. I did enough in the first four rounds to make it through."
"If you’re tired, it’s the loneliest place in the world. There’s you and him in there. There’s no hiding. And if you’re not in shape, you’re going to pay the price," he adds.
"After that, I said to myself, ‘I’m never going into a fight unprepared again.’ You can be the most talented fighter in the world, but if you haven’t got the gas tank, it’s all pointless."
Leaving nothing to chance these days, Bisping typically runs about five kilometres four mornings a week.
"I set my alarm for around 6:30 a.m. and I’m out the door by 7:15 a.m.," notes the 6-foot-2, 185-pound middleweight who was born in Cyprus (on a British military base), grew up near Manchester and now lives in Orange County, Calif.
After breakfast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he hits the gym (The HB Ultimate Training Center in Huntington Beach, Calif.) around 10 a.m. for a session of boxing and kickboxing, followed by jiu-jitsu and then wrestling. Those days are bookended with an evening session of full sparring.
On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Bisping focuses on wrestling. And then on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, he does strength and conditioning.
It’s a well-rounded regimen that’s critical to continuing a UFC career in which he’s already fought 16 times since June 2006.
"The thing with mixed martial arts is you’ve got to be good at wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing and kickboxing. You’ve got to be fit, strong and explosive," he says.
"The hard thing about it is fitting everything in. You’ve only got so much time. The human body can only take so much."
Recuperation is critical to the equation. Along with good nutrition.
Bisping’s diet includes plenty of protein sources such as chicken and eggs, lots of veggies and some good fats such as avocado and olive oil.
"It gets pretty boring," he admits. "Fortunately, I have a wife who makes it somewhat edible. After a while, you are craving a cheeseburger or a slice of pizza. But that’s part of being a professional athlete."
Bisping was forced to pull out of UFC 149 after undergoing knee surgery for a torn meniscus incurred during training.
He’s now slated to fight at UFC 152 on Sept. 22 in Toronto.
The knee remains a "little tender," but Bisping promises he’ll be ready.
"I’ve had a long career, but I still plan on being around for a lot longer," he adds. "I keep my feet on the ground and my nose to the grindstone."
Bisping’s mixed martial arts advice:
* For children, I think it’s a fantastic thing to get into. It gives you fitness, flexibility, discipline, respect, self-confidence and self-defence.
* For adults, find a good gym and enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying it, find something else to do.