By Raphael Garcia
UFC 204 is an important moment in the promotion’s history. Michael Bisping is the middleweight champion of the world, and rather risk him losing the title, the organization has made the smart move to book a rematch against Dan Henderson as his first defense. However, everyone remembers the image of Henderson laying Bisping out and finishing him off with a jumping elbow at UFC 100. With that image in the back of the mind, one has to wonder what would happen if Henderson wins the title and calls it a career at UFC 204.
Henderson has gone on record to say that the main event at UFC 204 will be the end of his near 20-year mixed martial arts career. “Hendo” is already a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but leaving the Octagon with the UFC Middleweight Championship would be the perfect way to end his tenure in the sport.
“I was ready to have that be my last fight,” Henderson said during a September edition of The MMA Hour. “Going out with a win is always nice, but to have an opportunity to actually go out on top [as champion] is always nice. I’m ready to be done training and everything else. I want to focus on family and other things a little bit more.”
Who would be included in the conversation about filling the vacated champion position? Do you start with former champions Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman? What about Yoel Romero and “Jacare” Souza? Would Bisping immediately be pushed out of the picture? These individuals are already booked in important fights that will shape the future of this division -- Romero and Weidman are battling at UFC 205, while Rockhold and Souza are rematching their 2011 bout at UFC Fight Night 101 a few weeks later. With these bouts in such close proximity, it makes perfect sense to take the winners and put them together at some point in early 2017; this could even be considered a pseudo tournament for the middleweight title.
Tim Kennedy, Derek Brunson, and Gegard Mousasi (who is facing Vitor Belfort at UFC 204), this division has a number of compelling championship-level matchups for the first time in quite a while.
Still, all eyes are looking to Manchester, England where Bisping and Henderson will meet in a rematch seven years in the making. Regardless of the outcome of the bout, the middleweight division is rife with potential matchups to keep fans interested in whomever is carrying -- or competing for -- the championship.