Michael Bisping is the new UFC champion at 185 pounds. Even though it just happened less than a week ago, we must find his next opponent. Well, I guess we don’t have to, but it is fun to do. So here’s the case for the most compelling of all the potential match-ups: a rematch with Dan Henderson.
Sure, there are studs at middleweight. Two — Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman — are former UFC champions. Rockhold also held a belt in Strikeforce, as did Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, another potential candidate for a title bid.
The division is also replete with fighters who have beat Bisping. Tim Kennedy has done it. So has Vitor Belfort, the aforementioned Rockhold and Henderson.
There are also all the legends in this division. There is Anderson Silva, who Bisping grabbed a controversial victory over prior to stepping in to face Rockhold for the title. There’s also Lyoto Machida, Gegard Mousasi and Rashad Evans, who is rumored to be heading to middleweight.
Then, there are Robert Whittaker and Uriah Hall, a pair of up-and-comers.
Lots of options. Lots of great potential fights.
Let’s be clear about what makes for so many compelling fights. That would be Bisping’s longevity and perceived vulnerability. Not many expected him to win this belt and fewer expect him to keep it very long. So, on some level, it is expected that the UFC will decide who it wants the next belt holder to be and send Bisping out to get slaughtered. But in the words of the great Lee Corso… not so fast, my friends.
The interesting thing about Bisping as champion is the built-in polarization. What makes Brock Lesnar and Conor McGregor bankable stars is that you love them or you hate them. You can say the same thing about Bisping. His perceived status as an “undeserving” champion raises a lot of passion in MMA fans. It has a pro-wrestling feel. People are actually acting like Bisping pulled something out of his trunks to beat Rockhold. He is a legit champion because he destroyed Rockhold, but that’s not the total perception among MMA fans, which is good for the UFC.
This leads us to Henderson, who is probably the fighter in the division who both has a lot of juice with Bisping based on their first fight and is very beatable. Booking a fight between these two means that we are going to see the H-bomb from UFC 100 replayed a thousand times a day on every media source there is. It also means Bisping is going to see it a thousand times a day. And if you don’t think that will get Bisping’s mouth going, let me remind you that Bisping has gotten going for a lot less. As we saw with the Rockhold fight, Bisping has no problem playing the “that loss was in the past” card when talking trash to his opponents. He will certainly have to do so against Henderson. He was on the wrong end of one of the most vicious knockouts in history, so he has to rewrite the narrative.
Bisping’s legacy is in cement. However, that knockout loss to Henderson will always hang over his head. Until it doesn’t. And the only way that happens is for the Brit to redeem himself against Henderson.
Henderson’s clock is ticking, and this is the perfect time for the match-up. “Hendo” just looked extremely brutal in taking out Hector Lombard, and Henderson and Bisping fought on the same night, so their recovery timetables are linked up. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be crazy to venture that the old feelings either still remain or will bubble up to the surface very easily. Henderson and Bisping are just cut from different cloths and they will probably never be friends.
The other fortunate by-product of this fight is that the UFC can still do the fights it wants to do, just not for the belt. A fight between the aforementioned Rockhold and Weidman at Madison Square Garden in New York doesn’t lose that much juice if it’s for the title shot versus being for the title. They are former champions and the UFC can promote a fight for the shot better with them than it could with Bisping. The point is, take the gate and buys that the UFC gets from a Bisping-Henderson fight with Bisping as champ and add that to the gate and buys from a Rockhold-Weidman fight, and there’s a good chance it would be higher than if the Rockhold-Weidman fight had title stakes and Bisping-Henderson did not.
So to sum it up, here’s how the UFC can promote the next couple of months at 185 pounds. Bisping fights Henderson, in England if possible. Rockhold battles Weidman at MSG. Jacare meets Evans, if Evans makes the jump to middleweight. Silva and Hall finally square off, and Belfort gets Whittaker. Put those fights together and see where the chips fall. The UFC can then go from there. These are all draws. They are all compelling fights. Most importantly, they all move the division forward.