Now that International Fight Week is over, we have a lot to talk about. UFC 200 became the largest event in MMA history, three new champions were crowned, Brock Lesnar won in his return and the UFC was sold for $4 billion. With all the excitement that has taken place over the last week, it is important to take stock and see where the sport stands. Here is the state of the UFC's middleweight division.
Michael Bisping finally sits atop the middleweight division after competing in the sport for over a decade. While he has had many fighters calling out for a title shot, such as former champ Chris Weidman and the man he beat for the belt Luke Rockhold, the UFC decided to go in a different direction. Dana White announced after UFC 200 that Dan Henderson is the likely opponent for Bisping when he has his first title defense and that Manchester would be the likely locale. Henderson could potentially become the oldest champion in UFC history if he were to defeat Bisping.
Now that the champ is facing the No. 13 contender, that leaves a lot of the top fighters in the division waiting for their chance at the belt. Rockhold has had a rough summer and is still recovering from the loss of his father and the loss of his UFC belt. He has said that he wanted an immediate rematch, but he may have to settle with fighting Weidman once again. Weidman pulled out of UFC 199 with a neck injury, but feels that he can still compete at an elite level. While he wants to get his title back as soon as possible, I'm sure he would be happy to seek vengence against Rockhold.
One fighter that is really left out in the cold following the Bisping-Henderson 2 announcement is Jacare Souza. He has no clear opponent to face now that a title shot is off the table. He just defeated No. 4 Vitor Belfort and No. 5 Anderson Silva is coming off two straight losses. However, he could find himself against one of the biggest winners from UFC 200.
Gegard Mousasi had a dominant fight against Thiago Santos during the Fight Pass Prelims that earned him the Performance of the Night Award. His efforts allowed him to climb to the No. 7 ranking in the middleweight division. After proving that he can handle a lower ranked fighter with ease, it now may be time to take on a higher ranked opponent. Souza, Belfort or Silva would all create unique challenges for Mousasi. With Souza in need of an opponent, that could be the marquee fight for Mousasi to really establish his name within the division and capitalize on his UFC 200 success.
No. 6 Robert Whitaker can also use the momentum of his recent success to secure a top five fight. Whitaker has won five straight fights and has earned two postfight awards during that time. He has definitely earned an opportunity to square off against a highly ranked opponent. Silva stylistically would be an amazing match up as both rely heavily on their striking.
The rest of the top 10 consists of former champion Lyoto Machida, knockout artist and TUF finalist Uriah Hall, and Derek Brunson who is currently fighting with a four-bout win streak. You can plug in these three against any of the remaining division elites and it is sure to be exciting.
The real wild card in the division is Yoel Romero, who currently is serving a six-month suspension under the new USADA anti-doping rules. The sentence was retroactive, so as of today Romero is open to fight again. He is currently unranked in the middleweight division, despite a seven-fight win streak and victories over Brunson, Machida and Souza. Though 38, he has shown that he can still compete at an elite level. Romero's return could shake up the division and cause an even bigger struggle to get the top fighters matches they deserve.
Bisping's winning of the belt has rocked the 185-division more than ever before. All fighters are scrambling to prove that they deserve the next title fight and will be looking to get a shot after one or two more wins. But for right now, Bisping will have another date with destiny as he looks to avenge another one of his previous losses and take on Hendo. If the last fight between the two is any indication, this fight is sure to end in fireworks.
(Image via MMAWeekly.com)