MMA Interview: UFC's Jorge Rivera and Nick Palmisciano Talk Michael Bisping
The UFC 127 fight between Jorge Rivera and Michael Bisping went a lot further than anyone expected. It all started with a few funny YouTube videos, but things quickly escalated prior to and during the fight itself.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with two of the men who helped create the videos that started the controversy, Ranger Up CEO Nick Palmisciano, and Jorge Rivera himself.
If you are still in the dark on the videos that were created by Ranger Up and Rivera to help promote the fight, you can view them by checking out the Ranger Up YouTube Channel.
Jorge Rivera decided that Michael Bisping would make a great opponent for him while sitting in Germany at UFC 122. His fight against Alessio Sakara had just been canceled due to Sakara coming down with flu-like symptoms.
“We were all bummed about it, and Jorge was sitting there and he just kind of goes, ‘I want to fight Bisping’,“ Ranger Up CEO Nick Palmisciano recalled. “He talked to Joe Silva and Joe let him know that he didn’t think that Bisping was willing to take that fight, but he’d pitch it to him.”
Everyone agreed that it was unlikely that the overseas star would want to fight someone who didn’t quite have the same name recognition. So right then and there, they decided to make sure Bisping would take the fight.
“Jorge decided he was going to make sure Bisping took that fight,” Palmisciano explained. “[He] Talked a little bit of crap, which is definitely not who Jorge tends to be, but he wanted to make sure Bisping would take the fight.”
“He would’ve looked for a bigger opponent and I knew that if I’d talk a little smack, that he’d jump at it,” Rivera added.
The plan went into effect immediately, with the group sitting around and brainstorming ideas.
“I have been doing these sorts of things for a long time, as far back as like high school wrestling. I have an affinity for this kind of stuff,” Nick continued, “the more ridiculous, the better.”
“Jorge is hilarious and he has tons of ideas. Matt Phinney, his boxing coach, is an awesome dude and he’s got lots of ideas,” he continued, “We bring in Lex McMahon and Kelly Crigger, and we just brainstorm.”
Jorge Rivera and Michael Bisping hadn’t interacted much prior to their fight and there really wasn’t personal animosity between the two.
“In all honesty, we were cool,” Jorge laughed. “I really didn’t have a beef with this guy. I knew it was going rile people up. I knew it was going to rile up his fans, I knew it was going to rile up people that hated him.”
But Palmisciano recalled Rivera talking about an incident he witnessed from Bisping following another one of his fights.
“Bisping came back into the locker room and made a statement to his coaches and Jorge was there,” Palmisciano relayed. “He said he just ‘Threw away the game plan for the first two minutes because he was just so aggravated with the guy.’ Jorge retained that.”
“We went back and watched every single interview that we could find with Michael Bisping and while we were watching them, we had a few different psychological assessment tools. We just checked off on different aspects of human personality. Things that we thought bothered him.”
The videos were over-the-top and even ridiculous at times, but they were very specifically targeted to get a reaction out of their opponent, Michael Bisping.
“The first one that was kind of just based on statistics. With the cats, the pink gloves. We knew that was going to drive him nuts, and it did,” Palmisciano explained. “The second one, which was our favorite to do, was the interview sequence where we did it up like a UFC interview. It was just incredibly fun to make. We had like four hours of footage on that and ultimately, it went to the cut we had, but we could have made it like an extended movie.”
“We busted his balls, but it was good natured,” he added. “In the third video, it’s a Monty Python parody! You know, that’s just funny! It’s just something that we wanted to do.”
But it was at that point that they started to get a real reaction from their target.
“We said, ‘We’re only going to run the Bisping is a dick video if he’s REALLY a dick,’ ” Nick insisted. Well he called Jorge “retarded,” said he wasn’t a real American because he’s Hispanic. I can go on and on and on. But we were just like, ‘You know? This guy really is a dick.’ We’re running the video.”
While the other videos gained some popularity, it was the “Bisping is a dick” video that really went viral. Now with over a quarter million views, the video gained tremendous popularity among the MMA community and really helped hype the fight.
“When Jorge Rivera and Michael Bisping’s fight was over, just shy of 700,000 people had watched those four videos. That’s not including the fact that the third video, the Monty Python video, ran in its entirety, on ESPN Australia,” Palmisciano analyzed.
“But just looking at the videos, 37 percent of the unique commenters made a statement along the lines of, ‘I wouldn’t even be interested this whole card, if it wasn’t for this fight’.”
While the BJ Penn vs. Jon Fitch fight was promoted as the main event, it was the Rivera vs. Bisping fight that was getting much of the attention from the media and fans alike.
“We were surprised because we were never, ever expecting it to get that big,” Rivera admitted. “I mean, ever. We were just doing it to piss him off, you know what I mean? But it got so big that it did more than piss him off.”
“I’m not going to sit here and say, “This is what Jorge generated for the UFC,’ but the point is, it was an extremely positive thing for Jorge, for the sport, and for that matter, Michael Bisping,” Palmisciano illustrated. “If he hadn’t completely douched himself at the end of the fight.”
By “douching himself,” Nick was talking about the series of events which unfolded immediately following the Bisping’s TKO victory over Rivera.
“My feeling is that Michael Bisping could have won the fight and then done a jig over Jorge, talked crap from now until eternity, and I would have had no problem with that. Because you know what? We cast the first stone,” Nick said. “We busted his balls for three weeks and he would be completely justified to continue doing so, forever. If he had won properly.”
But the fight didn’t end properly by any stretch of the imagination. After dominating much of the action in the first round, Bisping landed a violent and illegal knee that rocked Rivera and caused a stop in the action.
The knee has caused much controversy throughout the MMA community, with fans debating whether or not it was intentional. Bisping himself claims the knee was not intentional, but both UFC President Dana White and Ranger Up CEO Nick Palmisciano disagree.
“Jorge was on all fours. There’s no way that he thought that he was just about to get up,” Palmisciano described. “He throws an illegal knee because, the worst thing that happens is that he gets disqualified. But he still gets to hurt Jorge, so it’s not an issue. Like, he didn’t “lose” to Jorge. Or he cracks him and gets away with it. Or he cracks him, loses a point, Jorge is messed up, and then he wins the fight the way that he did.”
Jorge Rivera knew that he has gotten under Michael Bisping’s skin, but even he didn’t see things going to that level.
“I was just surprised. The first thing I was surprised by is that he held the fence, then the second surprise was when he kneed me like that,” he said with disappointment in his voice.
In Nick Palmisciano’s opinion, the knee was essentially the end of the fight.
“The point is that we all would have liked the opportunity to see that fight go to its just conclusion. When Bisping threw that knee, he took away that opportunity,” Nick stated.
“[Jorge] wants to fight the best guys. He just wants to get in there and test himself, as a man, and give it his all,” he added. “That’s really what pisses me off. Not only did [Bisping] do it, but then he threw his arms up in the air like, ‘Yeah, I showed him.’ Just seems like a bad person. Everybody in our company has been involved in some sort of combat sports, whether we’re talking fights, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, you know, we are a combat sports bunch of guys and you know when you do something wrong... You feel awful about it, even if you don’t like the guy.”
Even after the flagrant knee, Jorge Rivera would not be told that the fight was over. It looked as if the fight was going to be stopped. Both Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg commented that they thought the fight was over on the live broadcast.
Rivera laid on all fours with his head in his hands for quite awhile as the referee asked him if he felt he could continue.
“In all honesty, man, I don’t really remember too much of the conversation on the ground. I just remember him asking me if I’m ready to fight,” Rivera explained. “I know how many people wanted to see that fight. I know half the people, if not more, wanted to see me get my mouth shut. I’m going to do my part. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to fight. That’s what I do, because I’m a fighter.”
It wasn’t just the knee that caused the controversy on that night, however. It was Bisping’s spitting on Rivera’s corner that really made things personal.
“Then he exacerbates the problem with the spitting at the end,” Palmisciano described with frustration in his voice. “I mean, it’s completely unnecessary, it’s ridiculous and nobody did anything bad to the guy. They hyped a fight. No one was going out there, doing anything nefarious. It wasn’t like we were digging up the guy’s past and publishing it for the world to see. It’s like, we’re making fun of you.”
Ranger Up would not condone this kind of action from anyone affiliated with them and they look at it as a major flaw in Bisping’s character.
“Were I him, I’d be embarrassed,” Palmisciano said. “But he isn’t. He’s proud. That is one of the many reasons why I have issues with the man.”
“There’s no discipline there. There’s no effort to even have discipline. It’s embarrassing. From my perspective, everything that he did in that fight was an embarrassment. It’s hard to have respect for him. “
But apparently Michael Bisping thought that what was was said in the videos went too far. In the post-fight interview, he went as far as to say that Rivera and Ranger Up were attacking his family.
“It was all garbage, you know? I would never do that. I was just looking at him like, ‘You’ve gotta’ be kidding me’.“ Rivera said.
Palmisciano wanted to answer the critics, as well.
“The one thing that I’ve seen over and over again, and it pisses me off every time, is this completely fabricated concept that we were making fun of Michael Bisping’s girlfriend with the koala concept within the video,” he said.
“First of all, anybody that knows anything about Jorge knows that he is a family guy. He holds family very, very personally, and would never go after somebody’s family. It’s just not in his DNA. It’s not the way that we do business. It’s absurd.”
“Second, Michael Bisping is such an incredibly easy target that for us to even get to a point where we needed to try to make fun of his family to make fun of him, we would really have to suck at this. We’re talking like, we’d have to be making fun of Bisping for like four years and then be like, ‘Alright, I think we’ve finally gotten to the end here. Let’s go after his family.’ It’s just an absurd notion.”
“Then the last thing, and I want to make this 100 percent clear,” he continued, “when we made a reference to koalas, all that we were saying is that we think he has sex with animals. Not that his girlfriend had a sexually transmitted disease. Just the bestiality.”
The concept of Bisping enjoying sexual relations with animals is funny, but there was a small minority of fans who believed that the knee and spitting were perfectly acceptable responses to the videos.
“There’s no situation at all where we attacked his family,” Nick insisted. “No one can find it. But [Michael Bisping] said it enough that people that hadn’t seen the videos or hadn’t read anything just started repeating it.”
“Jorge didn’t do that. [Bisping] is just going out of his mind, angry, because he’s getting disrespected again, in his mind. Then he starts making things up so he can justify why this is happening, why people are laughing about it. Because [he thinks], ‘they have to like me because I’m Michael Bisping and I’m awesome’.”
Everyone involved had a tremendous amount of respect for Bisping as a fighter, but they knew they could get to him and force him to make a mistake inside the cage by going after him outside
“I don’t think he can control his anger,” Rivera bluntly stated.
Nick Palmisciano agreed.
“If I was going to try to help him, which I have no vested interest in doing, I think he should spend some time working out some issues,” he declared. “He is constantly looking for respect. He is constantly looking to be liked. He doesn’t understand why people don’t respect him like they respect other top tier fighters. That’s evident in every single interview, and so that’s what we keyed in on.”
Rivera lost the fight by TKO in the second round, but the negative reaction surrounding Bisping’s actions carried significant financial ramifications as Dana White later announced that Bisping would not be receiving his win bonus.
From a personal standpoint, Palmisciano would have liked to have seen Bisping suspended, but he understood why the UFC decided to go in the direction they did.
“But from a business perspective, I also understand that there are a whole lot of people that want to pay to see Michael Bisping get knocked out. Including me,” he admitted. “If I’m not at the event, I will buy any pay per view with Michael Bisping in it because I want to see him get his ass kicked.”
“From that perspective, I completely understand why it’s not in the UFC’s best interest to shelve this guy. He’s the most hated guy in the entire company.”
Bisping has become so hated, in fact, that Ranger Up has even seen a large increase of merchandise from the sale of their “Meat Biscuit” t-shirt, originally designed to get a reaction out of Bisping.
“We sold a ton of that shirt to the U.K. and we will be donating several thousand dollars to Help for Heroes, which is a U.K.-based charity, similar to Soldier’s Angels in the U.S. or the Wounded Warrior Project,” Nick said.
The loss obviously affected Rivera’s standings in the worldwide rankings, but the fight and the hype surrounding it gave him the kind of media coverage he had never received, even in fights he won.
“It created a lot of media around the fight, which was awesome,” Rivera recalled. “[That] was the whole point of it. We didn’t expect it to be that much. So to be very honest, it was awesome.”
Rivera would certainly entertain the idea of a rematch with Bisping, but signs point to both fighters having different opponents next, with the potential of a rematch down the road.
Whether a rematch happens or not, there is no doubt that a fight highlighting genuine animosity between two combatants is something that fans loved to see. The outcome may not have been exactly what Jorge Rivera or the guys at Ranger Up were hoping for, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
“It was seriously a positive experience for [Ranger Up], for Jorge, and hopefully for the UFC as well,” Palmisciano concluded.
Not only was it a positive experience for all three, but it was also a positive experience for Michael Bisping.
As Bisping looks back on the videos, the hype for the fight, and the fight itself, I hope he can understand that this was a profitable situation for him in the long run. He may have lost his fight bonus, but there is no doubt that there are now plenty more rabid fans who can’t wait to support him or cheer for him to get knocked out in future fights.
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