The UFC middleweight title picture was thrown into complete chaos when Michael Bisping sent Luke Rockhold careening into unconsciousness after just 3 minutes and 36 seconds of the very first round at UFC 199.
The result has caused an almighty traffic jam at the top of the division, with a whole host of fighters feeling as though they are entitled to a shot at the Englishman and the coveted gold. The crazy thing is that most of them have good arguments to back up their claims.
Having just lost the title, Rockhold obviously feels that he deserves another crack. As we all know at this point however, immediate rematches for defeated champions are down to the whim of UFC brass. But the Californian’s case is bolstered by the fact that he holds a previous win over “The Count”.
With their series tied at 1-1 and the temperature of this heated rivalry only increasing further in the immediate aftermath of the June 4th clash, a trilogy-completing contest seems logical.
Chris Weidman was originally scheduled to fight Rockhold at UFC 199 , but he was forced to withdraw through injury, leaving the door open for Bisping to step in on short notice and achieve the improbable.
Given that he is a recent titleholder, who was on the verge of a shot before suffering the injury, Weidman too has cause to believe that he should be next in the queue. The fact that he is a New Yorker and the UFC’s debut at Madison Square Garden is set for November, by which time the “All-American” should have recovered from recent neck surgery, might further improve his chances of securing the fight.
Bisping however, revealed on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that he feels neither of the division’s two most recent titlists should be the opponent for his first defence.
“As far as I’m concerned, Chris Weidman needs to win a fight,” Bisping told Ariel Helwani. “So Chris Weidman is out of the equation. He is coming off a loss and unless your name is Chael Sonnen, you don’t get title shots coming off a loss”.
“Me and Luke are 1-1, but that first fight was two years ago and this rematch wasn’t even close. I knocked him out in three minutes – knocked him out cold”.
“I think that Luke should rematch Chris, and whoever wins that would be number 1 contender”.
The number three contender in the UFC’s official rankings is Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza. The Brazilian was last seen consuming the soul of countryman Vitor Belfort back in May, a win that many felt was enough to earn Souza the next crack. Of course, Bisping’s victory soon muddied the once clear waters at 185lbs and Souza’s place in the pecking order now seems uncertain.
Bisping did acknowledge Souza during the aforementioned interview with Helwani, calling him a “very viable contender”, but with the lines between sports league and business in a constantly blurred state when it comes to the UFC, somebody like Souza could easily lose out if a more financially lucrative option is available.
And unfortunately for the former Strikeforce champion, several of those options exist at present.
Dan Henderson may only be 13th in the middleweight rankings, but when Bisping won the title, he suddenly took on an eerie resemblance to the number one contender. His own display of barbarism against Hector Lombard earlier that same night obviously helped his stock, but if Rockhold had retained the title, ‘Hendo’ would not be in this discussion.
The fact that he and Bisping had a nasty feud back in 2009, which culminated in Henderson scoring one of the greatest knockouts in the sport’s history at UFC 100, puts him in the mix however. With their lengthy back story, the memories of that KO and the nostalgia-tinged romance of Hendo’s last hoorah, this could be a huge seller, and everybody knows it.
Motivated by a desire for vengeance, Bisping is also very much interested.
“Of course, that is a fight that I would love,” said the new middleweight monarch “Everybody knows about UFC 100 and Dan Henderson still has an image of him floating over my head whilst [I’m] knocked out as his logo, so I would like to put him in his place.”
Though he wasn’t brought up during Bisping’s discussion with Helwani, Anderson Silva also has credentials that could see him jump the line.
Silva lost in controversial fashion to Bisping in February at UFC Fight Night 84. Not only was the decision itself disputed, but Silva knocked Bisping out with a huge knee in the embers of the third round. However, the buzzer signalling the end of the session sounded with such immediacy that referee Herb Dean did not stop the contest.
Silva was supposed to face Uriah Hall at UFC 198, but that bout fell through when “The Spider” became ill. It has yet to be rescheduled, however there has been speculation that it could end up on the UFC 200 card. If the amazing arachnid fights and beats Hall, a rematch with Bisping would be very marketable indeed.
As big as these two fights are though, they pale in comparison to one that Helwani suggested.
The return of Georges St-Pierre seems to have been sitting on the horizon forever, but in recent months the former long-reigning UFC welterweight champion’s comeback has taken on an air of inevitability. GSP revealed on an April edition of The MMA Hour that his management had been talking with UFC officials about this prospect “more seriously” than ever before. The 170lb great added that if he did return, he would only do so for the biggest fights.
“I would rather be known as the best ever than holding the belt,” said GSP, with his famous French-Canadian lilt. “If you’re the best and even if you don’t have the belt and you’re the best, it’s more gratifying. The belt is a material thing. It’s good. I won it a few times. But I want to fight the best, the biggest name.”
When St-Pierre happened to be in the crowd for UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor’s first fight at welterweight, many wondered if the Irishman was the one GSP was referring to in the above quote. Of course, McGregor went on to lose against Nate Diaz and all parties subsequently tried to downplay the speculation.
An interesting alternative to a fight with McGregor might indeed be a bout with Bisping. Perhaps he isn’t the biggest name in the sport or the pound-for-pound king, but the fight would offer St-Pierre a chance to become a two-weight champion. Adding to the intrigue, as Helwani pointed out, is the fact that the pair are currently tied for most UFC wins at 19.
Bisping admitted that he has been hearing whispers about this fight and added that he would be delighted to take on the Tristar representative should he make a return.
“I would certainly be open to sending Georges St-Pierre back to a movie set, because I would definitely win that fight. If Georges St-Pierre is listening, any time you fancy it, just be a man, sign on the dotted line, and your return will be short lived.”
Everything seemed a lot simpler in the division a few weeks back, but Bisping’s win has created a true middleweight mess. That isn’t to say it’s a bad thing for everyone. For the fans, it has resulted in excitement and intrigue, while the champion and the promotion celebrate the abundance of marketable choices laid out in front of them.
But, as is so often the case in the UFC, it could lead to the fighters who have done the most to earn a shot being left out in the proverbial wilderness.