Last weekend, in the main event of UFC 199, British veteran Michael Bisping shocked the world with a title-synching destruction of Luke Rockhold. Almost a week later, the Brit’s massive upset still has the world buzzing.
As time ebbs on, however, the focus is starting to shift to Bisping’s first defense as UFC middleweight champion, and who might be standing across the canvas from him when he makes that defense. Given that his shocking victory completely upended the division—which is currently more stacked than ever—that’s a very interesting question to ponder.
So, let’s take a look at the new champion’s options.
The first and perhaps most likely next step for Bisping would be a rematch with Rockhold, the man he defeated to win the belt. Under ordinary circumstances, Rockhold’s being knocked out in the first round of his first defense would not justify his being awarded an immediate do-over. Given that this was Bisping and Rockhold’s second fight, however, and that Rockhold handily won their first encounter less than two years ago, the grounds for a rematch are certainly there. And if the pair’s scathing exchanges at the UFC 199 post-fight press conference are any indication, they both feel like there is a score to settle. So, the rubber match makes sense. Yet Bisping assured ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that Rockhold would probably not be his first defense, and so for the moment, it appears that we’ll have to look elsewhere in the middleweight division for the Brit’s next dance partner. As mentioned above, however, there is no shortage of options to that end.
Another interesting choice for Bisping’s first defense would be Chris Weidman, the man Rockhold defeated to win the belt back in 2015. Of course, the glaring problem with this potential booking is immediately clear: Weidman has not fought since losing his belt to Rockhold, and title challenges are not typically given to fighters riding losses. That said, before coming up short to Rockhold, Weidman had made several dynamite defenses of the title, and also boasted a perfect record. So, despite his recent loss, it would not be hard to sell him as a legitimate challenger for Bisping’s throne.
Considering the UFC will soon debut in Weidman’s native New York, the timing for this prospective showdown couldn’t be better. Given one of Weidman’s recent Instagram posts, which suggested Bisping didn’t actually want to fight him, the New Yorker is acutely aware of this fact. Just days removed from a serious surgery, he is already laying the groundwork for a potential showdown with the Brit at Madison Square Garden. But then again, Weidman’s riding a loss could well remove him from the list of potential Bisping opponents. He might be forced to seek victory in a non-title fight before being considered a title contender again.
In this event, the most compelling choice for Bisping would undoubtedly be Brazil’s Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. While Jacare is just one win removed from a decision loss to Yoel Romero, that decision was as debatable as they come. Considering Romero was busted for banned substances shortly after this fight, the loss is even harder to hold against Jacare. Besides, the Brazilian rebounded nicely in his subsequent bout, smashing a recent title contender in Vitor Belfort. Yes, despite his recent loss to Romero, Jacare is without a doubt one of the best middleweights on earth, so his fighting Bisping would be an easy sell. Be it in Brazil, the US, or the UK, the two could headline or co-headline any number of upcoming pay-per-views, and if this recent Jacare Instagram post is any indication, the Brazilian is good and ready for this possibility.
Of course, there’s always the chance that the UFC throws us a curveball and pulls Bisping’s next opponent from somewhere outside the middleweight top-five. More specifically, there seems to be a good chance that the Brit makes his first defense against an old foe in Dan Henderson.
Bisping and Henderson first met at UFC 100, back in 2009. On that night, Henderson flattened the Brit for one of the most famous knockout victories in combat sports history. In 2016, however, the two fighters are at very different junctures of their careers. After a long run of ups and downs, Bisping is now the best middleweight on earth. The 45-year-old Henderson, meanwhile, has been on a visible downslide for the last few years, losing 6 of his last 10 bouts—and three of those by knockout.
Yet at UFC 199, just hours before Bisping scored his title-winning upset, Henderson scored a shocking upset of his own, crushing a dangerous Hector Lombard with a back-elbow and a series of ground punches. So, while Henderson hinted at a long-discussed retirement in the moments after the fight, he is suddenly a fairly relevant fighter again. This fact, paired with his unforgettable knockout defeat of Bisping, lays the groundwork for a fairly intriguing rematch for the title in the year 2016. According to this Retweet, Bisping seems to be into the idea, and really, who can blame him for wanting to avenge his most notable loss?
Then again, Henderson seems to be seriously considering retirement, and given his age, and the glorious opportunity for a ride into the sunset he created by knocking out Lombard, this is probably the right choice. And so, Bisping vs. Henderson 2 could well stay in the realm of the hypothetical.
Either way, however, it’s clear that Bisping has plenty of compelling options for his first defense. The middleweight division is crammed to capacity with dangerous contenders, all of whom are eager to steal the belt the Brit just shocked the world by winning. And while he is likely to be the underdog against most of these men, it’s clear that Michael Bisping is not the kind of fighter that should be counted out. Who knows how many of these fighters he’ll defeat before the curtains close on his time as middleweight king?
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