Michael Bisping is one week removed from solidifying his position as UFC middleweight champion. Capable of absorbing two of the heaviest punches known to man, “The Count” got on his bicycle and peppered Dan Henderson for the better part of five rounds to secure a unanimous decision in front of a raucous supporting crowd.
Unfortunately for Bisping, that’s the only title defense that will likely take place with somebody outside of the UFC’s top 10 rankings.
There are currently only four contenders being considered for a title shot at the moment, all of whom will take place in somewhat of a middleweight tournament to determine the next man in line. Here, we’ll predict Bipsing’s chances against the elite four in his division.
Michael Bisping vs. Yoel Romero
Yoel Romero is easily one of the most dangerous fighters in the middleweight division, but the threat he carries inside the cage consistently and quickly declines as the fight wears on. The Olympic gold medalist seems to be more comfortable with showcasing his ever-improving striking over the last couple of years, putting his elite wrestling pedigree on the side. Provided that he can catch Bisping early and put him away for good, it should be a relatively quick night for “Soldier of God.”
But Bisping’s been hurt before, and arguably recovered better than any other fighter in UFC history outside of Frankie Edgar. Recovering from what was essentially a flying-knee knockout against Anderson Silva to win the final two rounds, as well as recovering from not one, but two H-Bombs against Dan Henderson to earn a unanimous decision nod, Bisping has proven he can not only take a punch, but thrive in the face of adversity. Even if he doesn’t get caught with a big bomb, there’s nothing to indicate that Romero could win a decision with what great differences these two share in cardio.
Michael Bisping vs. Ronaldo Souza
The toughest matchup to predict of the four, it’s easy to see this one go either way. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is known as a talented Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, but has made great strides in his stand-up since making the transition into the UFC. He’s finished tough fighters like Gegard Mousasi, Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami and Derek Brunson. He’s as well-rounded a title contender as you’ll find in 2016, and is a tough challenge for just about anybody at 185 pounds.
That said, Souza’s recent successes have been predicated upon the idea that he’ll either land that big overhand left or secure a takedown of some sort to impose his will as a grappler. Despite all his recent successes, Bisping has only face three heavy grapplers over the last four years: Chael Sonnen, Tim Kennedy and Thales Leites. He lost to the first two, and only narrowly beat Leites via split decision last July. While Leites is the closest representation to what Souza brings to the table, “Jacare” has always proven to be much more effective in getting the fight to the ground.
Michael Bisping vs. Chris Weidman
Here’s where things start to get real ugly for the United Kingdom’s first UFC champion. Former UFC middleweight Chris Weidman is the very reason so many started to question the validity to Michael Bisping’s claim of the UFC’s throne at 185 pounds. A powerful mixed martial arts wrestler with striking that was capable of giving Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida fits inside the cage, Weidman is looked upon with high esteem to reclaim the throne if he manages to get past Yoel Romero (which, by most accounts, he should).
While Bisping had a lot of success against Silva and Dan Henderson by fighting on the outside and constantly moving, Weidman has proven to be one of MMA’s best fighters when it comes to cutting off the cage. He moves forward, and never gives his opponent much of a chance to set his strikes up. What’s more, he carries the very wrestling pedigree that’s given “The Count” trouble over the years. Weidman is, more than anybody else in the middleweight division, the worst possible matchup for Bisping and his hopes to remain middleweight champion.
Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold
We’ve seen these two go at it before; twice, in fact. The first fight went down as most of us expected it to. With Luke Rockhold being the longer, taller fighter with a more versatile striking attack, the California native managed to walk Bisping down the cage before landing a glancing kick that took him off his feet before sinking in the guillotine choke. A fairly simple night for Rockhold, and one that proved he was a true threat to the 185-pound crown.
A rematch was supposed to provide much of the same. Rockhold, now holding the confidence stemming from a dominant victory over Weidman six months prior, had everything going his way as he took on a last-minute challenger in the form of a man he already defeated just as impressively. But just as the confidence started to peak, Rockhold kept his right hand far too low and got clipped with a pair of left hooks that put him away. It was a stunning upset from Bisping, but one we have a hard time seeing take place again in 2017.
Should Rockhold be the man to stand head and shoulders above the crowded crop of contenders come December, he would be wise to utilize his length once more against the smaller champion. It worked once before; it should work nicely again.