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Michael Bisping on Saturday retained the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title at UFC 204 in a hard-fought battle against rival Dan Henderson, a man who was ranked 12th at 185 pounds and had gone 2-2 in his previous four fights. Henderson’s two wins had come against lower-ranked opponents, and his two losses had come by knockout against fighters ranked above him.
After Bisping narrowly escaped with his senses intact, a demolished face and a unanimous decision victory over the retiring 46-year-old Henderson, the entire middleweight division has to be salivating over the thought of facing “The Count.”
Where exactly does Bisping stand in the world of fictional pound-for-pound rankings? Is it fair to say the Brit is the least imposing champion in the UFC? Would calling Bisping an unproven champion be a bit of a stretch? It makes you wonder if Bisping is more along the lines of Randy Turpin, Hasim Rahman, Matt Serra, the 1997 Florida Marlins and the 2001 New England Patriots. You see, there’s a fine line between what Tom Brady’s Patriots would eventually become and how quickly Rahman washed out after pulling off a huge upset. Which one will Bisping end up being?
Yes, Bisping is the UFC middleweight champion, but to justify him as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world is a daunting challenge when considering his recent track record. It may seem disrespectful to suggest Bisping is somehow unproven, but nearly being knocked out twice by Henderson in his first title defense hurt far more than it helped; and to be completely honest, he won’t be respected as a champion until he defends his title against someone ranked in the top three.
Question: How did it end up this way? Answer: a little bit of luck combined with some impeccable timing. After getting steamrolled by Luke Rockhold in 2014, Bisping began to quietly put together a winning streak. He looked good against C.B. Dollaway but had his fair share of struggles against Thales Leites. He ended up with a split decision in a fight that put him in position to make a run for the title. This is when things got interesting.
First, Bisping was scheduled to fight Robert Whitaker but had to be replaced by Uriah Hall after an injury forced him out of the bout. This led to his being briefly linked to a fight with Gegard Mousasi before getting the call to face a returning Anderson Silva. We all know the story about what took place in the third round of his UFC Fight Night battle with “The Spider,” but a little luck saved Bisping from what may have been ruled a knockout by another referee. We’ve all seen worse stoppages.
To his credit, Bisping survived -- a theme that would accompany his run -- and earned the unanimous decision victory. What should have been next is anyone’s guess, but it wasn’t supposed to be a middleweight title fight with Rockhold. However, Bisping was at the right place at the right time when Chris Weidman went down with an injury. It can be argued that Rockhold was deflated for a return fight against a man he had already mauled once. Either way, Bisping was right where he needed to be and shocked the world with a first-round knockout at UFC 199.
However, his run of good fortune wasn’t quite done. On that same card, Henderson faced Hector Lombard. A little bit of luck put the gears in motion for what ended up being the UFC 204 main event. Henderson was originally slated to fight Lyoto Machida at UFC on Fox 19. However, Machida declared the usage of a banned substance, and the fight was scrapped. This led to Henderson ending up at UFC 199 against Lombard. By some weird stroke of luck or fate, “Hendo” survived a thudding left hook from Lombard that sent him to the canvas and roared back with a highlight-reel knockout in the second round. Coupled with Bisping’s shocking win over Rockhold, it set the stage for a rematch seven years in the making, as Henderson would get his last chance at a UFC title against the man he brutally knocked out at UFC 100.
There is no other reason a champion would defend his title against a fighter ranked outside the top 10, aside from the unique circumstances surrounding Bisping and Henderson. It was good television but not necessarily good matchmaking. It has been well-documented how the rest of the middleweight division felt, but then the fight happened and Henderson nearly finished Bisping in the first round. The fairytale came close to coming to fruition, but you have to credit Bisping for weathering a pair of knockdowns to edge out the decision.
Things could have been much different if Bisping had not gotten injured or Henderson ended up fighting Machida. Credit Bisping for being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the opportunity. Unfortunately, many are not singing the praises of Bisping just yet. After all, he did almost lose to a 46-year-old who had lost six of his last nine fights.
Can you feel confident ranking him as one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world? For many, he hasn’t proven himself just yet. Perhaps he’s just getting started and we’re in for a Bisping reign of power like the one the Patriots have enjoyed since upsetting the Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI; or Bisping could just be a seat warmer for another middleweight to take the throne. Regardless of what you think of him, you have to admit this has been one heck of a ride.
Andreas Hale is the editorial content director of 2DopeBoyz.com, co-host of the boxing, MMA and pro wrestling podcast “The Corner” and a regular columnist for Sherdog.com. You can follow on Twitter for his random yet educated thoughts on combat sports, music, film and popular culture.