UFC middleweight Michael Bisping is back on the winning track. The long-time contender has been alternating wins and losses in the Octagon since 2012, but righted the ship against C.B. Dollaway at UFC 186 in April.
Rather than settling for .500 record, now he's trying to put together a win streak that'll finally get him the elusive title shot that's never come his way in his near decade run in the Octagon. That process takes its next step in July when he faces Thales Leites in the main event of UFC Fight Night 72 in Glasgow, Scotland.
And what does Bisping think a win over the Brazilian will net him? Nothing short of a fight against a top contender, one that could be a title eliminator.
"Obviously my last fight defined my position amongst the elite in the UFC," Bisping told the media on a conference call on Wednesday. "If I get the job done against Thales, which, of course, I plan on doing that, with the greatest of respect, I think it certainly puts me in the discussion. Obviously Vitor [Belfort] is out of the window now."
As 'The Count' sees it, after Leites, there are two names ahead of him: Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza. Bisping acknowledges they're ahead of him for now, but with his aim still being the UFC title, he believes a showdown with one of them is inevitable.
"We've got Rockhold and Jacare, which are the next two guys in shot," he said. "Let's say Luke gets the next shot. By the time he's at that fight, I'll have beaten Thales Leites. I'll almost be there. That's always been my dream, my goal, and it still is. While I'm still in the UFC, I'm always going to [want to] be the world champion.
"I'm getting better all the time. I'm 36, but I still feel like I'm in my prime. I'm actually learning more and more as a martial artist, so I'm getting better. That's always been the goal and it still is, believe you me."
Bisping insisted he isn't trying to call anyone out. He claims he's intently focused on Leites. Still, there's a part of him that is always thinking about the path to the title.
"To be honest, I had the fight with Luke Rockhold. He head butted me," Bisping asserted. "That kind of affected the outcome of the fight. So I'd love a rematch with Luke, but when I look at Chris Weidman, of course I respect the guy. He's a great champion and a great person. But I believe I match up very well with Chris as well. Regardless of who it is, as I said before, I'm focused on my fight with Thales. That's going to be a tough match up, for sure. I'd be a fool to look anywhere else. Once I'm done with that, regardless of who is champion, I'll be confident in my ability.
"People I want to fight next are Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman and Jacare Souza," Bisping said matter-of-factly. "They will be the top three names in the division and certainly, a win over Rockhold or Jacare would get you a title shot. Weidman is the champion. I believe one of those guys is going to fight for the title next, anyway. Either one of those guys would be a dream opponent after Thales Leites, but I would be a fool to look past Thales. That's lesson no. 1: Never underestimate your opponent, never look past an opponent. I'm not doing that."
For now, Bisping is turning his attention to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt he has to fight in July. However, he noted, there's a conversation to be had once that's over. A conversation, he argued, that will be centered on him trying to extend his win streak.
"We'll discuss that in eight weeks after I sent Thales home with a sore backside," Bisping contended. "We'll discuss who I'll fight next."