Most of the longstanding UFC champions have deserved their ‘era’; a title depicting their dominance and reign at the top of the tree. Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn, Jose Aldo, and others. However, there have also been the woefully premature calls for a new era coming into play; the Machida era had just one successful defence, for example.
It’s become a joke of sorts in the MMA community and really it’s got to be a tag given with hindsight, not foresight. So, as Michael Bisping comes into the first defence of his UFC middleweight title in Manchester on October 8th, it can only be an early premonition to suggest he’ll rule the roost for a long time.
This is combat. Fighters that looked invincible have been knocked out cold or given prolonged, devastating beatings. Michael Bisping has never looked invincible and that’s why you won’t get many predicting a long reign. Despite this, the Bet365 odds have him at 5/11 against his old nemesis Dan Henderson, though that’s more likely due to the fact that Henderson should be retiring in the imminent future.
He comes in as favourite to defend his title at least once – albeit to a man that brutally knocked him out the first time they met – but should he get past Henderson, how does he stack up against the rest of the division that will be clamoring for a shot at the gold?
Old training partners are already coming out of the woodwork staking their claim, with Urijah Hall talking of ‘kicking his ass’ in training. Not only that, there is a killer’s row of contenders just beneath him in the rankings that will fancy their chances.
The champion he just dethroned, Luke Rockhold, submitted Bisping in 2014 and that leaves them level at 1-1. He’d certainly be interested in the rubber match. Fighting in the co-main event in Manchester is Vitor Belfort, the man who emphatically finished Bisping by TKO in 2013. Again, he has a legitimate claim to the title fight, especially if he gets past Gegard Mousasi.
As well as the men that have beaten him previously, you’ve got the likes of former champion Chris Weidman who matches up well with ‘The Count’ stylistically, and BJJ specialist ‘Jacare’ Souza, who can submit any 185lbs fighter in the world on his day.
Bisping didn’t have to get past either for his title shot (though that’s a testament to him taking it on such short notice), but now he’ll have to if he wants to remain champion. At 37, does he have it left in the tank to fend off such attacks on his title?
Only time will tell, but as it stands there’s only one fight that matters, and that takes place in Manchester next month. Only after that key encounter can Bisping start to put together a strategy for the future. The odds are swinging in his favour this time, and he’ll be hoping the hometown crowd will give him an even bigger edge.