As we approach 2018, Michael Bisping continues to pursue the perfect ending to a great career, following a nasty knockout defeat at the hands of Kelvin Gastelum on Saturday (November 25) in Shanghai, China.
It was the fight Bisping wanted, the payday he wanted, but certainly not the ending he wanted. It wasn’t his idea, either, to lose his UFC middleweight title the way he lost it on November 4, when Georges St-Pierre, the “short, fat welterweight impregnated by aliens”, tapped him out in round three of a fight at Madison Square Garden.
It leaves Bisping, a man who has appeared in the UFC’s Octagon 29 times and achieved everything he could have hoped to achieve in an illustrious MMA career, in a state of limbo. With nothing left to prove, he is a former champion with no designs on winning his old belt again. Instead, he’s a former champion looking for a way out – the perfect way out. He has sights set on March 17, the date of the leaving do, and a fight in London, England.
But what kind of fight? And does it even matter at this stage? Keep in mind this will likely be Michael Bisping’s last ever Octagon appearance, so there’s no need for it to advance his position in the middleweight rankings, nor move him a step closer to a title shot, and the pool of possible opponents opens up. No longer champion, no longer in contention, he can fight just about anybody. It doesn’t matter.
Equally, though, we shouldn’t ignore the fact Bisping was UFC middleweight champion only a couple of months ago and, though on the decline at 38 years of age, is still one of the leading 185lb fighters on the planet. His final fight should be winnable, yet no cakewalk. He will want it to do his career justice. He will want to prove something, if only to himself.
It’s not yet confirmed that Bisping will fight on March 17 in London – given recent events, it might be best to wait a while longer – but here are five possible opponents for ‘The Count’ as he looks for a perfect climax to a career well-fought.
This fight was being mooted just moments after Gastleum’s left hand landed on Bisping’s chin and left him in a crumpled heap and it’s plain to see why. Machida, like Bisping, is coming off some defeats – three of them, to be exact – and is a shadow of the man who once terrorised the light-heavyweight division. Now a middleweight, Machida was recently finished by Derek Brunson in the first round, and before that succumbed to Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold. He remains a big name, however, someone around whom you can build an event, and he also has history with Bisping, who once branded Machida a “cheat” following a failed drugs test in 2016. “Lyoto Machida, the (expletive) poster boy of martial arts, the (expletive) mystic dragon and all this other bull (expletive),” said the Brit. “He can say whatever the (expletive) he wants, but we all know what’s going on.” There’s your angle.
Speaking of fighters with a blotted copybook, Vitor Belfort would seem, on paper, the ideal opponent for a Bisping finale at some point in 2018. In fact, were it not for the fact Belfort has a fight with Uriah Hall lined up for January 14, you’d book a Belfort vs. Bisping rematch for March 19 without hesitation. The two have history, having fought in January 2013, and Bisping has shown no aversion to reopening wounds and exorcising demons, as proven in a rematch victory over Dan Henderson last October. He will want revenge over Belfort and he will want to fight him now, in 2018, when he can be absolutely certain – or at least close to certain – the Brazilian is fighting clean.
Uriah Hall wouldn’t be a bad opponent, either, were he not scheduled to fight Belfort in January. The flashy Jamaican got his career back on track, following a run of three straight defeats, with a stunning come-from-behind KO of Krzysztof Jotko in September. Stylistically, it could make sense for Bisping. Hall, after all, will stand and strike, with punches and kicks, and has also shown a vulnerability in recent times that could very well give Bisping a shot at pulling out a stoppage win in his final fight. If the finale happens later than March, or, indeed, if Hall and Belfort go short in January, this could be a possibility.
‘The Barbarian’ started the year losing to ‘Jacare’ Souza by submission, but then, in typical Tim Boetsch fashion, turned it all around and knocked out Johny Hendricks in June. Boetsch, like Bisping, is a veteran of the UFC, having appeared some 22 times, and has always delivered a good scrap, whether in victory or defeat. He stands with opponents, throws heavy leather, and is a big and strong middleweight who has also been known to campaign at light-heavyweight from time to time. He’d be an entertaining and reliable option, a sure bet, if nothing else.
Though perhaps not the sexiest matchup on paper, David Branch was unbeaten in eleven fights before losing to Luke Rockhold in September and is a former World Series of Fighting champion at both middleweight and light-heavyweight. Primarily a high-level grappler, Bisping might feel he can keep the fight standing and punish Branch with his better kickboxing and takedown defense. He might also, however, see Branch, and one or two of the others on this shortlist, as a considerable step down from the likes of Georges St-Pierre and Kelvin Gastelum. But maybe, just maybe, that’s the way it should be at this stage. Maybe that’s the point.