October 14, 2016

UFC 204: What's Next For The Middleweight Division

By Adam Martin

Two of the best middleweights in the world picked up two big wins last weekend at UFC 204, but the division's title picture is just as muddled as ever.

In the main event, UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping made his first successful title defense with a close unanimous decision win over Dan Henderson, who promptly retired after the bout. Fans and media were split on who should have gotten the decision, with many favoring Henderson's knockdowns and overall damage over Bisping's higher volume, but ultimately the judges sided with Bisping and he remains the champion. It's probably a good thing, too, since Henderson winning and retiring would have meant the title would be vacated, and that would have caused even more problems. But alas, Bisping won so we don't have to think about that scenario.

In addition to Bisping winning, in the co-main event Gegard Mousasi continued his ascent in the ranks with a TKO win over Vitor Belfort. Mousasi has now won three fights in a row and though he called out Anderson Silva in his post-fight interview, his current win streak puts him in a great position in a stacked division, and will earn him a big fight his next time out regardless of whether that's Silva or someone else.

Getting back to the rest of the division, there are two huge fights coming up at 185 lbs. The first takes place at UFC 205, when former champ Chris Weidman takes on Yoel Romero. Weidman lost his last fight to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194, but this is a huge opportunity for him to get back into the title picture with a win over Romero, who is on a seven-fight winning streak inside the Octagon. And speaking of Romero, this fight is especially big for him, because it would be very hard to deny Romero the next title shot if he gets to eight straight wins.

There's another big middleweight fight taking place at UFC Fight Night 101, as Rockhold takes on Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. Though Rockhold lost his belt to Bisping a few months ago, he still remains one of the top middleweights on the roster and shouldn't be far from a title shot with a win over Souza, who recently TKO’d Belfort at UFC 199 to get back into the title mix himself. Souza does have a recent split decision loss to Romero that hurts him a bit as far as his title aspirations go, but beating Rockhold would put him right back in the title picture. And on the same card, there’s a big middleweight fight between Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson that shouldn’t be overlooked, as both men are on nice winning streaks and could be dark horses in a clearly stacked division.

So really, you have four fighters who probably deserve a title shot next, which makes it interesting to see what the UFC matchmakers will do. If Bisping, who took a beating from Henderson, needs time off, perhaps the winners of Weidman-Romero and Rockhold-Souza could fight each other, which would determine an undisputed #1 contender. But if Bisping wants to stay active and get back in the cage as soon as possible, then you could take the more impressive winner and give him to Bisping, and let the other winner fight Mousasi. Maybe the UFC currently has Romero just a little bit ahead of all the contenders listed because of his win streak, even though his recent USADA drug suspension might make the promotion wary of pushing him into a title situation at the moment. The truth is, we really don't know what the UFC matchmakers are thinking (we never do), and the fact that Joe Silva is leaving at the end of the year and being replaced by Mick Maynard throws a whole new wrench into things.

It's always difficult to matchmake looking too far ahead in the future, as an injury would totally throw a whole new spin into whatever the UFC has planned, but the middleweight division sure has some nice-looking matchups coming up. If I had to guess, Bisping won't be holding his belt for very long, but in this crazy sport where anything and everything can happen (and often does), as a fan it's an exciting time to watch.


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