The victory completed, in a way, one of the best and longest-running storylines in mixed martial arts. Bisping (29-7) has fought in the UFC since 2006 and is now tied with Georges St-Pierre for the all-time promotional record in wins with 19. But he somehow never fought for a title before last weekend -- and as recently as last year, it appeared quite possible that he never would.
So, when the 37-year-old Bisping knocked Rockhold (15-3) to the floor in the first round with a left hook, it was pandemonium. Adding to the chaos was the fact Bisping accepted the fight on short notice and was facing an opponent in Rockhold who had previously forced him to submit in a lopsided loss in November 2014.
Bisping spoke to ESPN.com on Wednesday about his championship win, how he achieved it and what might be next.
You've had a few days to process this achievement, what's it feel like today? Is there a sense of finality almost, reaching something you've chased for so many years?
I do feel it internally. This is a lifelong quest. I've been in the UFC for 10 years. Of course, there were a couple darker days along the way where you thought this was never going to happen, but as a fighter, you have to have self-belief. It's here now and it's a little surreal. It does feel like I have achieved ... it feels like I've made it to the top of Mount Everest and I passed a few dead bodies along the way. It feels like I climbed Mount Everest with one leg and everybody said to me, "Nobody can climb Mount Everest with one leg." Because I knew everybody was writing me off. I had a lot of critics and fans who never thought I could do this, so, yeah, it feels good.
What were some of those moments you referred to, when you thought maybe a UFC title just wasn't in the cards for you?
I can't remember any exact instances of when they occurred, but I had No. 1 contender matchups several times and I lost them all. After that loss to Luke, I knew I could always have a career in fighting and make money. But when you're getting into your late 30s, you've got to be realistic, of course. That negativity doesn't last long with myself, though. You start putting together a win streak, you fight Anderson Silva [in February] and get a win, you think a title shot has to be on the horizon. I'm generally an optimist, but of course, when you've been with the UFC for a decade and still not had a title shot, there is a little part of you that wonders if it will ever happen.
What changed between your loss to Rockhold in late 2014 -- a fight many would say he more or less dominated -- and last weekend?
Technically, to be honest, nothing really changed from the first fight. The thing that really changed was the mental aspect. The mind controls everything, it really does. You have to be calm in there and maybe I was letting the emotions get the better of me in the first fight. I've said it a million times, that in an anguished state of mind, you're never the best version of yourself. There was no love lost between Luke and I, but I wasn't looking at it like that. And I have no ill will towards the guy. I really don't. I was there for myself. The opponent was irrelevant. I was calm with a smile on my face and that was the difference.
After the fight was over, particularly at the press conference, you and Rockhold continued to verbally lay into one another. He said you mocked him after the knockout. What was your take on what happened?
What happened was, after the fight was over, of course I'm happy, I was thanking the crowd. I went past Luke and shook his hand and said, "Well done." I always say that, win or lose. It's a hard thing to be a pro fighter, so I shook his hand and said that. I was making my way around the Octagon after that, thanking different fan sections, basking in my moment -- rightfully so, by the way -- I had just become world champion. I found myself passing Luke again. As I was passing him, I wanted to reiterate my sentiment and shake his hand again. He said, "I just shook your hand. I don't want to shake your hand again." I was like, "Are you serious? You know what? F--- you then." That's where it all started. Then I walked into the press conference and he was already berating me, saying all kinds of s---. I said, "If that's how you want to be, then I'm not going to be nice." It's hard to be humble when the guy is sitting three feet away from you being a d---. I wish I would have turned the other cheek, but he kind of did get under my skin. I wish I didn't have the verbal sparring match with him, but it is what it is.
Of course, with the series tied 1-1, people are talking about a rubber match. What's your take on a third meeting with Rockhold?
As of right now, Luke Rockhold will not be my first defense. That's a fact. I had to go away and beat three more guys before I got a second shot at Luke. Certainly, after his behavior on Saturday, he should have to go away and do the same. He wasn't even close. And it's not like Luke beat me, then I beat Luke, so therefore we have to go again right away. The first fight was two years ago. Neither of us were champion then. He became champion, good for him. And I just knocked him out in the first round. Luke's an incredible fighter. He probably has better technical skill than I do. He's going to go away and do it the old-fashioned way like I had to.
So, who is next?
Unfortunately, I'm not going to give you a name. There is someone I've got my eye on, but ultimately it's down to the UFC. I do get a say since I'm the champion, so that's nice. But I've never turned down an opponent and I certainly don't intend to start as a champion. We'll see what happens. There's plenty of viable contenders. Defending the title in the U.K. is certainly something I'd love to do, and I've already made it clear to Dana White that I would like to do that.
Lastly, at the end of the press conference, cameras picked up you using a homophobic slur towards Rockhold. You immediately acknowledged it as a mistake, but there have been reports written about it. Would you like to comment on that?
I'm hesitant to make a statement, because it kind of throws fuel on the fire, but the fact of the matter is that's not a word that is generally in my vocabulary. Growing up in northern England, that's a word used a lot and it wasn't a homophobic slur. It was more when you refer to somebody as a wimp, that type of thing. That was how we used the word. Now, of course, I'm a grown man and I realize the negative connotations and associations that word has and it's a word I don't use. But Luke and I were in a heated argument and I kind of went back to the memory bank of an insult I used when I was at school and it just came out. As soon as I said it, I said, "Oh s---, what on earth did I say that for?" I'm not homophobic in the slightest. I have lots of gay friends and associates. If I did cause any offense to anybody, I profusely apologize because that's not me.