Bisping, Fury, McGregor, Wilder: Athletes who worked 'normal' jobs before sporting success

  • Kobe Tong

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Michael Bisping's journey to becoming UFC middleweight champion was by no means an easy one.

Climbing up 'The Ultimate Fighter' ranks and battling through a devastating eye injury, Bisping's crowning moment as Britain's first UFC champion perfectly illustrated the name of his autobiography.

'Quitters Never Win' feels like a fitting title for a career that saw Bisping overcome obstacle after obstacle to achieve his dreams in the fight game when making a living in the octagon once felt impossible.

Bisping on his humble beginnings

Speaking to the High Performance Podcast, 'The Count' reminisced on his jobs before becoming one of the UFC's most prized assets and how that fuelled his fire to become an MMA champion.

"I believe everyone has a skill," Bisping began. "When I was about 21 or 22, I was with my girlfriend at the time - she's now my wife - and we had two kids and I was working as an upholsterer.

"Well, a quality control inspector actually. It was honest work, but it paid minimum wage. It wasn't very good and this guy that I worked with, my supervisor, said to me: 'Michael, what do you want to do for the rest of your life? Is this what you want to do?'

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"And I said: 'No,' so he said: 'Well, you need to give it some thought because before you know it, 40 years will have passed just like it did for me and you'll be an old man,' and I thought: 'He's right.'

"And I thought: 'What am I going to do with my life?' I was thinking and thinking and thinking and I kept coming back to fighting..."

Bisping's rise to the top

It really does go to show how dealing with the adversity of life and working in professions for which you have little passion can drive you on to achieve the goals that you've always desired.

Bisping certainly hints at the hypothesis that his short-lived time in jobs like upholstery were an extra driving force behind pursing a career in MMA and ultimately becoming champion of the world.

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Bisping isn't alone...

However, while Bisping's rise to the top is most certainly brilliant in its own unique ways, the 42-year-old isn't alone in having undertaken a 'normal job' before ascended to the sporting star that we know today.

In fact, inspired by Bisping's tale of progressing from covering chairs to sitting people down, we wanted to journey through other big-name athletes who gave different careers a crack of the whip first.

And it's important to note that we're using the phrase 'normal jobs' not because they are in any way inferior, far from it, but 'normal' in the sense that they don't come with the exposure of sport's dizzying reach and profiles.

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Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

Athletes who started out in 'normal' jobs

So, from Burger King staff to plumbers and factory staff to the Army National Guard, you can check out 11 athletes who, like Bisping, plied their trade in 'normal' jobs before becoming sports stars:

1. Jamie Vardy

It's incredible to think that Vardy went from making prosthetic limbs at a carbon fibre factory during his non-league days to scoring 100 Premier League goals and playing for England at a World Cup.

And lest we forget that the Leicester City legend also considered leaving the Foxes to become a party rep in Ibiza after just one season at the King Power Stadium. 

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2. The Undertaker

Mark Calaway, better known as 'The Undertaker', is listed by The Sun as having worked as a debt collector, nightclub bouncer and barman before joining the WWE more than 30 years ago.

3. Conor McGregor

Before quitting to try his hand at MMA full-time, eventually becoming the UFC's first double champion, McGregor left school at age 17 and worked as a plumber's apprentice for 18 months.

According to The Sun, the 'Notorious' said of the role: “I hated every minute of it. You were talking 14 or 15-hour days. I just thought, ‘This life isn’t for me, I’m going to pack it in. I’m going to chase my dreams'.”

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4. Tyson Fury

Per the Telegraph, John Fury said that Tyson and his brothers "were shifting 15 tons of tarmac a day from the age of 11, on one meal a day," while also selling carpets and polishing their fighting skills.

5. Rickie Lambert

A beetroot factory was the calling for Lambert in the summer of 2001 before Macclesfield Town offered to pay travel expenses. He went on to play for Liverpool and represent England at the 2014 World Cup.

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6. Deontay Wilder

According to Ring Magazine, the 'Bronze Bomber' went from working at Burger King to becoming an Olympic medallist and the feared former heavyweight world champion that we know today.

7. Andrew Robertson

Before becoming arguably the world's best left-back at Liverpool, Robertson worked on the tills at Marks & Spencers as well as for the Scottish FA at Hampden Park, according to the Daily Mail.

In fact, Robertson - whose 2012 tweet: 'life at this age is rubbish with no money #needajob,’ famously went viral years later - once had to show Vincent Kompany to his seat as part of his role.

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8. Miroslav Klose

A trained carpenter during his youth, Klose explained that he "learned the trade and still loves the trade” while rising up the ranks to become Germany and the World Cup's all-time record scorer.

9. Brock Lesnar

One of the UFC and WWE's biggest ever stars, Lesnar joined the Army National Guard when he was 17 years old, but was assigned an office role after his colour blindness was deemed to be too detrimental.

Lesnar was eventually discharged for failing a computer typing test and went on to work in construction before becoming one of sport's most recognised figures.

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10. Stuart Pearce

The Sun notes that 'Psycho' worked as an electrician alongside playing for Wealdstone and even continued to advertise his services in Nottingham Forest's match-day programmes in case his career in football collapsed.

11. Anthony Joshua

According to talkSPORT, Joshua worked as a part-time bricklayer to gain his qualifications in the trade during his amateur career. He went on to become two-time unified heavyweight champion of the world.

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Dreams can come true

So, on the off chance that any of you reading this have ambitions in sports, but haven't quite made the grade just yet, be sure to use these case studies as proof that your dreams can come true.

Everyone from Joshua to Vardy and Wilder to Bisping had to pursue other ventures in order to keep themselves afloat in the mean time, but boy did it pay off when they went all-in for their sporting dreams.

When world heavyweight champions can come from Burger King and Champions League winners can rise from Marks & Spencers, you can bet that we live in a world where anything is possible.

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