A few years ago, when Michael Bisping (27-7) was about to face Vitor Belfort in what turned out to be one of Bisping's just-short-of-a-title-match runs, he said the one thing he didn't want out of his career is to be remembered as the guy who ended his career with the most number of UFC victories to never get a title shot.
With his win on Saturday against Thales Leites, the record is his. The title match probably isn't close. But there's another record Bisping may not hate as much that's within shooting distance.
The 36-year-old Bisping won his 17th UFC fight, putting him in a tie with Anderson Silva for third place on the all-time list, behind Matt Hughes, with 18, and Georges St-Pierre, with 19. Given that Silva is 40, currently suspended, and was heavily talking retirement before his suspension, Hughes is retired and St-Pierre may be retired, Bisping could very well own that record some day, perhaps even over the next year.
Even if he was to break that record, it's not likely it would be one that would last very long. Jon Jones has 15 wins at age 28. Donald Cerrone has 15 wins at age 32. Journeyman Gleison Tibau, who is far less likely than Bisping to ever get a title shot, has 16 wins at age 32.
After the fight, Bisping pushed for that elusive middleweight title shot, as well as decrying the testosterone replacement theory era which led to his coming one fight shy of a title match on three occasions, in losses to Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. In his own mind, those three losses, all three of which would have given him a title shot had he won them, impacted his career greatly.
But the title match is going to be tough, especially as the division looks now. Luke Rockhold, who beat Bisping handily, is getting the next title shot at Chris Weidman. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Yoel Romero should both be well ahead of Bisping on the next challenger list, although if they fight each other next, one will be knocked down a peg. There's also Gegard Mousasi behind them, and if Tim Kennedy comes back, he has a win over Bisping as well.
The always outspoken Bisping is the type of fighter who will get the close call when it comes to a title shot. It's his inopportune losses, which in several cases can be chalked up to a controversial drug policy, that have derailed him. But he has a name, he promotes fights better than all but a few on the roster, and he has a crowd-pleasing style.
Before his fight on Saturday against Leites, in describing himself, Bisping hit on a key component. He noted that he was not the greatest athlete, nor the strongest, quickest and certainly not the hardest hitting. He's in a division loaded with some of the most gifted athletes in the sport, including all of the big four.
The idea of Bisping being the guy with the most UFC wins to never get a title shot in many ways paints an accurate portrait of both his career and his ability. For all the knocks he took early on, he has proven to be a very good fighter, with exceptional conditioning and excellent longevity at a high level. At his age, he was able to win a close one from Leites, who once faced Silva for the title, and is a better fighter today than the one who went five rounds with the champion.
Bisping took the split decision, even though two of the three judges gave Leites the final round in a fight where almost every round was competitive. The story of the fight is that Leites was mostly moving forward, Bisping was landing at a better clip, but Leites was landing the harder shots. Leites had Bisping in more trouble than Bisping ever had him.
The current version of Leites may have been the most impressive win of Bisping's career. But to get a shot, in this division, he'll need both patience and probably a couple of wins higher on the food chain.
Let's look at how the Fortunes Changed for Five stars of the two UFC events this past week.
MICHAEL BISPING - For purposes of a title quest, a fight with either Romero (10-1) or Souza (22-3) would be his best bet, although he'd be a heavy underdog in either case. It still makes the most sense for Romero and Souza to face each other. For Bisping, the right opponent would be Belfort (24-11).
There is a back story with Belfort knocking him out, and then undergoing a major physical change. Belfort is still a dangerous opponent, who hurt Weidman early in the first round before having no answer once Weidman took the fight down.
But the biggest fight Bisping could probably do right now is with a guy who has made it clear he's not interested, which is Henderson (31-13).
Each is the biggest name the other could logically face right now. That's also a fight that really doesn't depend on both guys coming off wins (which they are right now). Henderson's UFC 100 knockout is one of the most-played clips in MMA history. With the announcement of UFC 200 next July, that would be the perfect time and place for such a fight.
FRANK MIR - The other longtime star of this week's Fights Nights scored a win that was the complete opposite of that of Bisping.
Mir (18-9), scored his second straight quick knockout win, taking out Todd Duffee in 1:13 on Wednesday night. Both men threw caution to the wind in a rock-em sock-em robots fight that was clearly going to end quickly. It's a comeback for the 36-year-old Mir, who had lost four in a row and was only saved from being cut by the fact he had been such an enduring star.
The fact Mir lost four in a row, and had only won once since, and was still ranked No. 10 coming into this fight speaks of the lack of depth in the division. Two fighters ranked at similar levels who he hasn't fought are Ben Rothwell (35-9) and Mark Hunt (10-10-1). Rothwell wants a higher ranked name but Mir is still a high-profile opponent. Mir and Hunt would still be a very viable television main event and solid pay-per-view main card fight.
TONY FERGUSON - A former Ultimate Fighter winner, Ferguson (19-3) scored his sixth straight win, and the biggest of his career, in topping former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson.
The win should move Ferguson into the top 10. The perfect next opponent is Eddie Alvarez (26-4). It's both an exciting fight on paper, as well as one that would be a major win for whoever comes out on top.
JOANNE CALDERWOOD - Calderwood (10-1) had almost the perfect hometown win on Saturday. She asked for someone to bring the best out of her and Cortney Casey (4-2), a late replacement, fit the bill perfectly. Casey hurt Calderwood badly early, and landed solid shots throughout the three rounds, but it Calderwood had the better conditioning due to the longer camp, and clearly controlled things after the first barrage.
Calderwood would likely give champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk as entertaining a fight as anyone based on being a tough stand-up fighter. But the title shot should go to the winner of Claudia Gadelha (12-1) vs. Jessica Aguilar (19-4) on Aug. 1 in Rio de Janeiro.
For Calderwood, the best opponents would be former TUF housemates Carla Esparza (10-3) and Rose Namajunas (2-2). Namajunas beat Calderwood, who came into the season as one of the favorites, via submission on the Ultimate Fighter show, which led to Namajunas meeting Esparza in the final.
HOLLY HOLM - Holm (9-0) was brought into UFC with the idea that as a former world boxing champion, she could be groomed for a shot at Ronda Rousey's bantamweight title. She dominated Marion Reneau, but the fight wasn't very exciting.
A good next opponent would be former Ultimate Fighter winner Julianna Pena (6-2), because the winner could be in line for a title shot. If the timing doesn't work out, Sarah Kaufman (17-3) or Cat Zingano (9-1) would also be steps up from a rankings perspective.