With the news of Michael Bisping’s recent injury the UFC has decided to move on from booking a Middleweight title fight with the current champion. Instead they have decided to put an interim Middleweight belt up for grabs. Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero will both enter the cage as contenders at UFC 213, but one will emerge with the title of champion.
This announcement is music to the ears of fight fans around the world who have grown increasingly vocal with displeasure over the state of the Middleweight division. Often referred to as “log jammed” there is a bevy of viable contenders lined up waiting for a title shot while the UFC has seemed to have no sense of urgency to deliver anyone in the top ranks a shot at the champ. Names like Yoel Romero, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Gegard Mousasi, Chris Weidman, Robert Whittaker, and Anderson Silva all sat on the sidelines begging for a shot at the champ to no avail.
Since Bisping shocked the world after stepping in on two weeks notice with a first round KO over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199, he has defended his belt once. Bisping put his belt on the line against UFC legend, and longtime rival, Dan Henderson. While legendary, Henderson was not ranked in the top five nor anywhere near his prime. Before entering the fight, 46 year old Henderson made it clear that he was retiring regardless of the outcome of the fight. Win or lose. After a five round war lisping received the nod from the judges and retained his title. And still, the contenders were left wanting.
The UFC announced George St. Pierre would receive the next shot at the Middleweight title. While George was the King of the Welterweight division before his retirement, he has not fought in years let alone proved his mettle in the middleweight ranks. After announcing the fight George has since decided he will not be ready to compete until October, so the waiting game continues. With the Middleweight division put on hold yet again the UFC decided to deliver an interim title fight to appease the anxious fans. As a result we received Romero vs. Whittaker.
With two of the top five contenders finally getting a shot at gold, this bout marks the most relevant title fight (in terms of rankings) for the middleweight division in a year. While Bisping vs. Henderson was an exciting fight with a backstory, at the end of the day what really matters is the rankings. What makes this sport so great has been and should always be about the legitimacy of claiming the title of champion of the world. The top honor of a mixed martial artist is the UFC belt. It states that you have reached the pinnacle of your career, and above all displayed dominance over all competition.
As a purist, I believe in the rankings and what they represent. An order and hierarchy to the madness that is Mixed Martial Arts. Introducing an interim belt to two top contenders in the midst breaks the mold of the current system that appears to care more about the ratings than the resume. And for that I thank the UFC. The Middleweight interim title will get this division back on track, and when Michael Bisping is healthy we will finally see the title defense he should have had in the first place.