UFC 214 marked the return of Jon Jones and a moment in time where we would really see if Jones was capable of getting back to the lofty heights he once owned. Far better mixed martial arts journalists have covered Jones' dramas and we've all come to know that when Jones steps into the octagon, he's an absolute phenom.
With a fling of his leg, Jones rattled Daniel Cormier and then won the fight with his typically ferocious ground and pound. Up until that high kick connected with Cormier's noggin, Cormier had given a fine account of himself and the even nature of this contest not only signified how special a match up this was, but how vast Cormier's improvements were. The difference was Jones' weaponry or his variety of weapons and often in sport, x-factor is what separates two athletes who are otherwise evenly matched.
I've thoroughly enjoyed the post-fight coverage from the likes of Ariel Helwani and Luke Thomas and I would simply be regurgitating their thoughts if I were to focus on Jones' win. And thankfully there's no need to focus on Jones vs Cormier and the aftermath of that fight because among the post-fight news, was a little gem for us #KiwiUFC folk; Michael Bisping vs George St-Pierre is locked and loaded with the winner to fight Robert Whittaker.
Bisping vs GSP had been in the works for much of this year and after appearing as though it was unlikely to go down, it's now definitely apparently gonna happen. This has major ramifications for our Kiwi-Aussie UFC boss-dawg Whittaker as Whittaker owns the interim middleweight title belt and Bisping owns the middleweight title belt. For those who need a little refreshing; Bisping was probably going to fight Yoel Romero to defend his belt, but Bisping has been out injured for a while and so Romero fought (and lost) to Whittaker in a fight with the interim belt on the line.
I was not surprised and neither should y'all be, to then see a certain mainstream kiwi website relay this news with a rather negative tone. The headline (tucked away well below a plethora of rugby union content) reads "Kiwi Whittaker loses shot at UFC crown" which is followed by a sentence which these mainstream sites used to make themselves seem more official once you open that story; "Kiwi Robert Whittaker slips in pecking order for Bisping's crown".
This differs a fair bit from my complete joy in hearing that Bisping would not fight Whittaker and would instead fight GSP. For starters, Whittaker went into the fight against Romero with a nigglin' knee injury and Romero then smoked that knee with a kick early in that fight. Whittaker posted this video yesterday and while he's moving around, you can clearly see that he's got a rather hefty brace on that left knee.
Whittaker has been on a tear through the middleweight division and it's been great that he has been able to string together eight-straight wins. The only downside to this is that has fought eight times in three years, or more notably his wins over Derek Brunson, Jacare Souza and Romero came within an seven-month span. It's not in Whittaker's style to kick back and not do anything, yet I think he's earned the right to rehab his body and take stock before getting back to business.
It's also not Whittaker's style to overly concern himself with the 'business' aspect of the fight game. Business for Whittaker is snatching souls in the octagon and his exchanges with Bisping blatantly showed this as Bisping tried to bait Whittaker into a verbal battle and Whittaker politely declined that invitation. Super-fights or fights that make a lot of cash but don't really do a whole lot for the competitive spirit of a division, are all the rage in the UFC and Bisping vs GSP is exactly that. And that damn sure isn't Whittaker's style or objective as he's here to be the champ.
Dana White suggested that Bisping vs Whittaker would be next, after Whittaker's win over Romero and perhaps this became a tricky move to pull off after the extent of damage to Whittaker's knee became apparent. This is purely speculation on my behalf regarding Whittaker's knee, although him requiring time to fix his knee opened a window where the UFC needed something, something for Bisping and they already had Bisping vs GSP in motion to some extent.
Now Whittaker's rehab opens the window for Bisping vs GSP, perfect. The winner of Bisping vs GSP will fight Whittaker, when Whittaker's healthy, perfect.
Predicting the future in the UFC isn't easy. I do feel as though Whittaker is in a great position regardless of what happens in Bisping vs GSP though and while he may have to wait to get his opportunity to be the undisputed champ, he sits on the interim throne. Should Bisping win, he'll fight Whittaker and Whittaker will have another opportunity to suss Bisping out while Bisping goes to war with GSP.
Should GSP win, well how can you not be excited about the prospect of Whittaker vs GSP!? GSP is a legend and our hearty interim champ would have an opportunity to showcase his ability on the biggest stage against a fighter who is a far bigger 'star' than Bisping.
This is pretty much a perfect storm. We've heard a lot about how the UFC's new ownership needs money-making fights, to make money and start to get a return on their investment. They need big-name fights, irrespective of divisions and belts to generate buzz and in all honesty, Whittaker isn't going to be talking up a storm like Bisping. The UFC likes Bisping vs GSP because it's a genuine headline-stealing fight and they can squeeze it in while Whittaker is out of action.
Whittaker's fighting ability though, well that sells itself and apart from Jones, not too many fighters can hang with Whittaker's volume and variety of weapons. The best thing for Whittaker is to let some dust settle - with his knee and the division - and the best thing for the UFC is for Bisping vs GSP. Whittaker has already taken care of Romero (#2) and Souza (#5), leaving Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman as the only other possible contenders for Whittaker's interim belt. They'll have to earn that though and the best thing for the division is to resume normal service asap, with a rightful champion.
Asap, but probably not until next year. Helwani has reported that Bisping vs GSP will go down in early November, meaning that Whittaker will have to wait until at least February to get his chance to fight for the middleweight title. I like that and as we've all see what Whittaker can do, the thought of Whittaker fighting with eight months (or so) to rehab and train, should scare not just Bisping and GSP, but the whole division.
Appreciate the #KiwiUFC yarn? Hit an (just one) ad to support the Niche Cache. You'll be making a donation without actually donating anything. Chur.