As Michael Bisping Rises, What’s Next for UFC Middleweight Division?

Decisions, decisions. What’s next for the UFC middleweight division?

In a division full of name-calling, surprise knockouts, and injuries, a loss for any current UFC middleweight will be costly.

As Michael Bisping continues his heroic and somewhat unlikely journey as champion, we wave goodbye to an all-time legend in Dan Henderson. His career ended with a narrow decision loss to ‘The Count,’ closing the curtains on a 47-fight career. Unfortunately for ‘Hendo,’ he was unable to add that UFC belt to his illustrious trophy cabinet.

UFC-on-Fox-2-workouts-Michael-Bisping-750x370Although it may be sad for some to see Henderson lose his final fight, it only adds to the long-shot championship story of Bisping. He has won his five most recent bouts and is the undisputed UFC middleweight champion, but also now has the most wins in UFC history with 20. Regardless of what you think of the English fighter, that is staggering to say the least.

After seeing the loss of a legend and the rise of an underdog, we now ask: who’s next?

There are four obvious candidates: Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman, Jacare Souza and Yoel Romero, who are embroiled in a sort of de facto  middleweight mini-tournament.

Luke Rockhold
Let’s cut to the chase here: was Rockhold overconfident heading in his first UFC title defense? Normally a powerful, well-organized athlete, many believe that Rockhold was too arrogant and naive when he fought Bisping for the second time in his career. He was knocked out three minutes in to the June fight, losing the belt which he won last December.

He is now scheduled to fight Jacare Souza in November, an opponent he defeated previously via decision in 2011. If Rockhold can perform as convincingly as he did against Weidman at UFC 194, he will surely be destined to fight Bisping for the third time in his career.

Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza
After finishing Vitor Belfort in the first round at UFC 198, many believe that Jacaré is ready for a title shot. However, instead of being given the shot, he will have to go through the former champ in a rematch of their 2011 Strikeforce bout. If he can perform to his strengths against Rockhold, Jacare will not only be able to defeat the Californian, but could finish him.

Standing up, Rockhold has the advantage. Even though they are both black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Souza is more lethal when the fight hits the floor. One of the main issues Jacare faces is, even if he defeats Rockhold, he has continuously been overlooked in a fight for the belt, which could occur again, considering the division is top heavy on contenders.

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Chris Weidman
To put it plain and simple, Weidman wants his belt back; which he notoriously took from Anderson Silva in 2013. Heading in to UFC 194, he was considered to be the favorite. However, quite frankly, the favorite was overpowered by the far better fighter on the night. The problem for Weidman is that the fight will still be lodged into fans’ memories. But if he performs against Romero like he did against Lyoto Machida and Mark Muñoz, he will have a serious argument to be the next in line for a shot at Bisping’s belt.

Yoel Romero
Unfortunately for Weidman, beating Yoel Romero is easier said than done. The Cuban is undefeated in the UFC since arriving in 2013. If it wasn’t for a failed drug test in December of last year, many feel that Romero would be the current holder of the belt. If he defeats hometown hero Chris Weidman at UFC 205 in New York, then Romero will be looking eagerly in Bisping’s direction. Even if he wins, will fans want to see a man who just came back from a suspension receive a title shot?

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Gegard Mousasi
The Dutchman seems to have beaten nearly everyone under the sun. His recent win against Belfort is his 40th in professional MMA. With his ranking in the division improving, another victory over a high-caliber opponent could land Mousasi the title shot which he believes should already have happened.

Anderson Silva
Four losses in his last 5 fights isn’t an accurate representation of what ‘The Spider’ can do. Everyone knows what the legend can achieve. After all, he is the longest raining UFC champion of all time.

On current form and merit, he is nowhere near a title shot; however, a lot like Henderson, he could receive one as a thank you for what he has done for the MMA world. As his retirement edges painfully closer, will we see Silva become champion one more time?

(Editorial courtesy of MMAWeekly.com contributor Cameron Middleton; follow Cameron on Twitter)

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