Earlier this year, in the main event of UFC 199, a 37-year-old Michael Bisping shocked the world by knocking out Luke Rockhold to win the UFC middleweight title. The unlikely victory marked the culmination of the Brit’s decade-long title chase, and forced a smile onto the faces of his fans and haters alike. It had seemed like an almost impossible outcome, but there we were, in the middle of the year 2016, and Michael Bisping was king of the middleweight hill.
Yet while Bisping’s defeat of Rockhold had the definite flavor of a happy ending, it was much more of a beginning, as the Brit was immediately forced to turn his attention to the swarm of killers that populate the upper ranks of the middleweight division, one of whom would provide his first title challenge; all of whom seemed like extremely stark tests for him.
In fact, it was hard to imagine the Brit being favored against any of the division’s top-ranked fighters. Against brick-fisted jiu jitsu whiz Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, he’d almost certainly be an underdog. Against ferocious former Olympian Yoel Romero or former champion Chris Weidman, he’d also probably be the dog. Even in a rematch with Rockhold, who he’d thrashed so handily to win the belt, Bisping probably would have been pegged as the man more likely to lose.
In a somewhat surprising twist, however, the UFC opted against all of the aforementioned men in the search for Bisping’s first challenger. Instead, they chose to pair the Brit with a 45-year-old Dan Henderson, who scored a career-revivifying knockout over Hector Lombard just hours before Bisping defeated Rockhold to win gold. The two will meet in the main event of UFC 204, in Manchester, England on October 8.
Now, if you had amnesia, this booking would be difficult to rationalize. Without the proper historical context, it’s a ludicrous title fight to make in the year 2016. Yet Bisping has plenty of shared history with Henderson, having been flat-lined by him at UFC 100, back in summer 2009. This is precisely why the UFC chose to go with Henderson. They’re giving their new champion a now-or-never shot at revenge, and using Henderson’s thunderous knockout of Lombard to leverage it.
The interesting thing about all this, however, is that Henderson is probably one of the only top-15 middleweights that shouldn’t obviously be favored over Bisping. Five years ago, he absolutely would have been, but today, when he’s five years shy of 50 and he can no longer gamble on his once legendary chin, he looks like a fairly surmountable challenge for the new champion—outcome of their first fight be damned.
The odds for the bout, which are now live, reflect this. Bisping has been pegged as a -240 favorite, meaning it would take a successful $240 bet on him to win $100. Henderson, meanwhile, is floating at +180, which means a successful $100 dollar bet on him would earn you $180. Needless to say, the odds-makers seem fairly confident in a Bisping W when the UFC returns to Manchester this October.
Whether you were rooting for him or not, Bisping’s UFC 199 title win was a pretty irrefutable feel-good moment. It was the culmination of a decade-long slog through the middleweight division, and it was very hard not to smile at. Despite that, however, his title win felt like the carton of milk you buy two days before it expires—it tastes good in your coffee, but you know it’s not going to last long. Thanks to some clever matchmaking from the UFC, however, Bisping’s title reign might well last a little longer than any of us expected. At least, that’s what the odds-makers seem to think. We’ll find out if they’re right on October 8.
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