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Bisping vs. Henderson 2 is one of those main events that makes you think…

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If you would have said seven years and 104 pay-per-views ago that Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson would do it again in 2016 — and that it would be for the middleweight title — and that Bisping would be the freaking champion — you’d have been considered a candidate for the booby hatch. Even back then Dan Henderson was on old PRIDE rocket fumes after losing title shots against Quinton Jackson (UFC 75) and Anderson Silva (UFC 82). And Bisping got knocked out so brutally by Henderson at UFC 100 that…well, guys just don’t come back from something like that.

Yet here we are. Revisiting an old bit of tension. The celestial governors of the fight game have a wicked sense of humor.

The 37-year-old Bisping is the champion. The 46-year-old Henderson is the challenger. Bisping, after whispering aspersions at Hendo for the last seven years every time he was reminded of that H-Bomb, gets another chance at redemption. He lost in a dispiriting way against Luke Rockhold in 2014 then came back, fortuitously, and knocked Rockhold out on ridiculously short notice a year-and-a-half later.

Hendo is a tough old piece of chewed-up rubber. Since he hit 40, he’s been slowly rottiserieing on the fight game skew, becoming more hickified by the day — just an ornery dude in camouflage, really — yet he just keeps fighting. He was savaged by Daniel Cormier, gouged by Gegard Mousasi, and decimated by Vitor Belfort. He was crash test dummy for Hector Lombard at UFC 199, too, before he reminded everyone of his incredible chin, and flashed that preternatural power.

Both are improbable stories of perseverance in a harsh league.

Wild left turns are bringing them together again. And because they are so unique to each other’s circumstances — because Bisping is a defined warrior who finally got his day, and Henderson smiles each time somebody pats his back for knocking Bisping out — all the other players just sort of got rubbed out. Chris Weidman, Rockhold, Ronaldo Souza, Yoel Romero, they all switched places with Bisping and became what he has traditionally been —  that is, secondary. There is gratification at every level of Bisping-Hendo II, at least insofar as the principals are concerned.

Still, it’s an odd title fight. Odd in the novelty shop way. Should Bisping get his revenge on Henderson, it would be poetic — Bisping’s Revenge Tour Rolls On — but then what? I guess it’s back to real world of facing one of the abovementioned names, all of whom are fighting each other in a kind of four-man contender derby across two continents. That seems like one hell of a reckoning for Bisping. Those cats are pretty pissed that he’s running around with the belt right now.

Or maybe he gets Belfort, the next (un)natural stop on a revenge tour.

Yet if Henderson wins, it’s almost like the middleweight division turns into a Hieronymus Bosch painting, with egrets nesting on membranes and centaur flutists and human scorpions and all that. That’s just such a mind-blowing event, a 46-year-old man that we’ve begged to retire on at least three occasions winning a UFC title. And not only that, but vowing to walk away with the title, to retire just as he finally gets it. Those stakes range from ludicrous to peculiar to fascinating. It’s wild. Would Hendo really walk away? There’s really no better way to go out than on top, especially after beating Bisping (again), this time in his own backyard in Manchester.

(Henderson has a way of doing that, by the way — he has never lost a title. He came to the UFC with two PRIDE belts and he came back to the UFC as the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion. Him leaving as a champion would be par for his career, particularly if he pops back up in Bellator next year).  

Still, sometimes logic doesn’t need to prevail in the fight game. Sometimes narratives are lost, as when Bisping beat Rockhold, and that’s part of what makes it such drastic fun. The unknowing. Heading into UFC 199 it was supposed to be Rockhold vs. Weidman II for the middleweight title and five PPVs later it’s Bisping vs. Henderson 2 for the middleweight title. It’s the fencing and refencing of our matchmaking logic that keeps the game fresh, and it’s okay to let the imagination run a little wild when things go haywire. That’s what happened when Bisping beat Rockhold and Henderson somehow weathered Lombard’s storm on the same night.

Suddenly we had a detour sign, pointing everyone to Manchester to see what happens when Bisping and Hendo do it again. And even given the strangeness of the reunion, somehow it doesn’t feel wrong.

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