It seems that the former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold may have to wait before he gets another shot at Michael Bisping.
After the huge upset of being knocked out in the first round of his first title defence last weekend at UFC 199, Rockhold (15-3) is naturally eager to get back in the Octagon with “The Count”. However, Bisping (29-7) is less inclined to give his old rival an immediate rematch.
The divisive Brit has hardly been humble in victory, and the pair traded barbs at the post fight press conference. Their mutual dislike for each other originated in the pre-fight build up to their first bout in 2014.
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Years before that, claims Bisping, the pair had engaged in a spar which had gone the way of the Brit. Both men were confident, but Rockhold ended up dominating Bisping, handing him his first career submission loss.
The Californian native went on to defeat Lyoto Machida before wrestling the middleweight crown from Chris Weidman in December. The pair were set for a rematch at UFC 199, but when Weidman had to drop out due to injury, Bisping was quick to fill his shoes. The pre-fight banter, typical of Rockhold and Bisping, quickly descended into promises of knockouts and finishes.
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When they finally met in the Octagon again, Bisping caught the American with a left hook that sent him to the mat. The Count followed it up quickly with another left as Rockhold rose, sending him crashing into the cage. A swift barrage of punches and referee “Big” John McCarthy dragged Bisping off the unconscious former champ. It was, as Bisping put it, his destiny to have to won in such a way.
Speaking this week with ESPN, Bisping stated that Rockhold is not on his radar for his first title defense:
"As of right now, Luke Rockhold will not be my first defense. That's a fact. I had to go away and beat three more guys before I got a second shot at Luke. Certainly, after his behavior on Saturday, he should have to go away and do the same. He wasn't even close. And it's not like Luke beat me, then I beat Luke, so therefore we have to go again right away."
"The first fight was two years ago. Neither of us were champion then. He became champion, good for him. And I just knocked him out in the first round. Luke's an incredible fighter. He probably has better technical skill than I do. He's going to go away and do it the old-fashioned way like I had to."
So who is next for the Brit? The middleweight division is in flux at the moment, with many of the highest ranked contenders suffering from injuries or suspensions. Chris Weidman only recently underwent successful neck surgery and is itching to get his hands on the belt once again. Bisping quickly shot down Weidman’s title hopes on Twitter, saying that he doesn’t deserve a fight, as he’s coming off a loss to Rockhold.
Another option would be Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace “Jacare” Souza. He recently destroyed the long-time title contender Vitor Belfort at UFC 198, though turned down his chance at the belt when Weidman pulled out of UFC 199. Souza’s only loss in recent memory was to the Cuban Olympian, Yoel Romero. However, “The Soldier of God” is currently serving a suspension for taking a banned growth hormone as part of a supplement for his pre-UFC 194 fight camp.
Yet there is one man whom Bisping is keen to fight: Dan Henderson. The 45-year-old “Hendo” (32-14), a two-division Pride Champion, is currently only ranked 9th in the UFC’s middleweight rankings. However, Henderson brutally knocked out Bisping at UFC 100 in July 2009. Claiming “Knockout of Year”, it book-ended season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter. Bisping has been calling for revenge ever since.
While he has since been defeated by the likes of Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort (twice), Daniel Cormier, and Lyoto Machida, Henderson rebounded at UFC 199 with a stunning stoppage over Hector Lombard. In his post-fight interview with colour commentator Joe Rogan, Henderson hinted at a possible retirement. While he had previously no interest in fighting Bisping again, the Brit’s title win has since changed his mind. Speaking with Champions.co editor, Erik Fontanez, Hendo’s camp advised that he may put his retirement plans on hold for one more crack at UFC gold.
Whomever finally gets the shot at Michael Bisping, you’re guaranteed it will divide the fans and pundits alike. Bisping has always been unapologetically a like-him-or-hate-him fighter, and his first title defense will certainly be one to watch.