If you were going to use a recent UFC card as a means to sell your friends on the wonderful sport of MMA, it might be a good idea to show them UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez. That incredible event, which took place just a few weeks ago, had eight of its 12 fights end by knockout or TKO and featured some of the more exciting finishes in 2013. While perhaps the grappling aspect of that card was lowered, few could argue against UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez being one of the better UFC events in recent memory.

On the other side of the coin, if you were going to try to avoid sharing a particular UFC card with your friends, UFC 159 might be one to leave off of your MMA mixtape. Although the night did have its high points—Roy Nelson’s knockout of Cheick Kongo and the back-and-forth battle between lightweights Jim Miller and Pat Healy, to name a couple—most who watched UFC 159 will likely remember the event as having been marred by a handful of bizarre and at times unsettling moments. Three of the night’s 11 bouts were stopped early due to injuries, one of which (Ovince St. Preux vs. Gian Villante) was shrouded in controversy due to the nature of the stoppage. After the card’s final match had finished, main-event winner Jon Jones realized he had broken his toe, images of which were mercilessly shared across the internet in the subsequent 48 hours.

Perhaps the night’s most gruesome injury, though, took place during UFC 159’s co-main event between middleweights Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher. With less than a minute left to go in the fight, one of Bisping’s fingers found its way into the right eye socket of Belcher, resulting in a nasty cut to Belcher’s eyelid which he said required eight stitches to repair. Due to the late nature of the injury, the fight was still able to go to a decision, and Bisping prevailed on all three scorecards.

Although Bisping’s fight with Belcher will undoubtedly be remembered more for the eye poke than for any of the other action, what perhaps has been lost in the injury was how convincingly Bisping was winning the contest. This was particularly evident in the fight’s latter moments, when Bisping seemed to maintain or even increase his pace from early in the fight. Sure, the fight was called early, but if the final 31 seconds had been allowed to play out, it would have been a solid, uncontroversial decision win for “The Count.” Injury stoppage aside, then, was Bisping’s performance against Belcher enough to finally put him in title contention?

Since joining the UFC as an undefeated light heavyweight in 2006, Bisping has continually been right on the cusp of getting a shot at a championship, only to have a loss sully those opportunities. He’s compiled a pretty remarkable 13-5 UFC record since that time, but the losses have hurt his career far more than the wins have helped it. Bisping has fought in three separate middleweight title eliminators after dropping to 185 pounds in 2008, but the fact that he lost all three (to Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort, respectively) has inhibited his ability to actually compete for the middleweight belt itself. That said, his 10 middleweight victories are the second most in UFC history, behind middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s 13, and he’s been a fixture in the division’s top 10 for quite some time.

The factor that might actually serve to Bisping’s greatest advantage, though, is the lack of other quality middleweight contenders who have not already been defeated by Silva. The UFC’s own fighter rankings have Bisping currently placed in the fourth position, but let’s examine the fighters placed ahead of him. In the top spot behind Silva is Chris Weidman, a young, hungry, undefeated middleweight who will get the next opportunity to take “The Spider’s” belt at UFC 162. Weidman’s place among his fellow 185ers is more or less unquestioned, given his resume and impressive past UFC performances. Between Weidman and Bisping are Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami, but because both of those fighters have already fought and lost to Anderson Silva, the UFC might think twice about giving one of them another shot at the title.

Below Bisping in the UFC’s ranking are Luke Rockhold and Constantinos Philippou, two talented up-and-comers, to be sure, but also two guys who have yet to face elite UFC opponents. Both will fight on May 18, though, and if Rockhold, the final Strikeforce middleweight champion, is able to get past Vitor Belfort, he could also have a legitimate claim to the next middleweight title shot. Philippou faces another member of the UFC’s middleweight top 10, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, though a win there might not propel him to immediate championship contention. If both Rockhold and Philippou lose that night, though, the UFC might be hard-pressed to justify giving a title shot to anyone besides Bisping.

Rankings aside, the UFC should also consider whether any of the other middleweight contenders would be able to promote a bout with Silva as effectively as Bisping. Belfort and Okami are relatively docile personalities, and it was their skills in the cage that served as the primary promotional factor in each of their fights with Silva. The same could likely be said for a Silva/Rockhold or Silva/Philippou fight, where neither of Silva’s hypothetical opponents in that scenario would put forth the sort of rhetorical firepower possessed by Bisping. Ever since he first made waves during the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, and especially since his coaching stint opposite Dan Henderson in a later edition of the series, Bisping has emerged as one of the most divisive fighters in MMA. While many appreciate Bisping’s attitude, his antics outside the Octagon have earned him his share of boos from the UFC’s fans. No doubt he’d ratchet up the heelish behavior if matched up with the world’s greatest fighter, which would only serve to more effectively promote the contest (as we’ve seen Chael Sonnen do more than once when pitted against an opponent no one thought he could beat).

This might all be moot, since Silva’s future post-Weidman is completely up in the air. There have been rumblings of superfights between Silva and some of the other UFC champions, and “The Spider” typically takes extended breaks between fights, so who knows when the next middleweight title fight after Silva/Weidman will even take place. This, of course, assumes Silva defeats Weidman. If Weidman should somehow prevail at UFC 162, that might force the UFC to schedule an immediate rematch, which would move Bisping back once again.

That said, if Silva is able to retain his belt against Weidman in July, Bisping has probably done enough to get the next shot at the title. His UFC success combined with the paucity of other middleweight title contenders and Bisping’s natural promotional abilities make him an ideal matchup for “The Spider,” even if he’ll almost definitely get destroyed like everyone else.

Photo: Michael Bisping (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.