Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, and the Genius of the Call-Out: A UFC Fight Night 25 Round-Up
The call-out is nearly as ancient an art as fighting itself. Without it, professional fighters would go hungry ("closed mouths don't get fed" is the old saying) and professional fighting would be a far tidier, duller business, with ranked fighters moving up and down their respective ladders with mathematical precision but no blood in their veins. To hear Shakespeare tell it, the Dauphin of France called out King Henry V with a gift of tennis balls, and though it cost him, it also got him the fight he wanted. How many fights did Muhammad Ali talk himself into back in the day, and how many opponents then talked their way to him? Pretty much the entire UFC featherweight division has called out Conor McGregor by this point, and he isn’t even in the top 10 yet. A well-placed call-out, done at the right time and with the right tone—half-comic/half indignant--is the ace up the fighter’s sleeve: a way to make more money, improve career prospects, and potentially hurt someone you don’t much care for all with one grand gesture.
At this point in MMA history, particularly with the rise of Twitter, it seems everyone is acknowledging the benefits of the call-out. While ancient fighters used to bow and arrow their fight requests over the walls of prospective opponents, now all Khabib Nurmagomedov or Michael Johnson needs is a smart phone, a bit of brass, and a comprehensive indifference to the subtleties of English grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But it’s one thing to be the guy calling people out; anyone with two thumbs can do that. It’s another thing entirely to be the guy the other guys keep calling out. To be without a belt but still be the center of attention for your entire division is the best guarantee of a long and fruitful career because in America there’s nothing better than hype getting built around you.
Take it from Michael Bisping, who’s been agitating he UFC middleweight division and motivating call-outs since long before anyone had ever heard the name Conor McGregor. I don’t know how he does it, but Bisping, who is currently ranked fifth in the middleweight division—not first, fifth—has turned himself into the go-to character for other divisional aspirants looking to move up the ladder. Tim Kennedy, Mark Muñoz, and Cung Le all have outstanding call-outs in the MMA ether for Michael Bisping, which only means that Bisping is guaranteed another year’s work. If we could only prove that the Englishman was conspiring with these other fighters to keep himself in the promotional spotlight, we would have to consider him the greatest self-marketing genius in the UFC, above even the master Chael Sonnen, who, let’s face it, has to work a whole lot harder than Michael Bisping does. Sonnen has had to keep his mouth running for the past three years. All Bisping has had to do is say “yes” to anyone whose come along to challenge him.
To that list you can now add Luke Rockhold, who had barely finished knocking Costas Philippou at last night’s UFC Fight Night 35 event before he was grabbing the mic to call out--you know it--Michael Bisping. Apparently at some point in the last year, Rockhold, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, and Bisping had sparred and Bisping had felt he’d won, thereby making him the “unofficial Strikeforce champion,” a boast Rockhold took exception to.
“There’s also Michael Bisping,” Rockhold told Jon Anik during their post-fight interview. “A lot of guys call him out. He says he’s the unofficial Strikeforce champion. He calls it a joke; I call it poor taste.”
I don’t know if Luke Rockhold has no sense of humor or if he’s just pretending to have no sense of humor to facilitate a move up the divisional ladder (a perfectly reasonable, and popular, ploy for fighters: fake indignation, play the straight man to the class clown, gin up interest), but I do know that every time a fighter calls out Michael Bisping he’s doing an enormous favor for Michael Bisping. All those years Bisping spent accruing ill will with fans and fighters alike (mocking Dan Henderson, spitting on Jorge Rivera’s cornermen, generally never keeping his mouth shut) have paid off handsomely. He is now the middleweight division’s indispensible man, the guy who can’t be ignored. Middleweight champion Chris Weidman just beat Anderson Silva twice, yet fighters are barely speaking his name. Bisping, meanwhile, is on everyone's lips. Fighters are smart; they know what will enhance their careers, and they know that playing the white night to Michael Bisping’s heel is the best way to get noticed.
All those seeds Michael Bisping planted years ago are now blossoming into a giant garden of distaste, agitation, indignation, and future paydays. And he barely has to lift a finger. The man may be a genius.
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