Michael Bisping hasn't even been the UFC middleweight champion for a week and already the line to fight him is queuing up.
Last Saturday Bisping claimed the title in a shocking upset of champion Luke Rockhold, knocking him out in the first round and avenging his previous loss to Rockhold from 2014. In the post-fight press conference Bisping and Rockhold got into a verbal dust up about sportsmanship and a potential rubber match which continued after the conference was over and ended with Bisping telling Rockhold to go to the "back of the line." In an interview with Brett Okamoto of ESPN, Bisping talks about his first title defense and apparently has not changed his mind.
"As of right now, Luke Rockhold will not be my first defense. That's a fact. I had to go away and beat three more guys before I got a second shot at Luke. Certainly, after his behavior on Saturday, he should have to go away and do the same. He wasn't even close. And it's not like Luke beat me, then I beat Luke, so therefore we have to go again right away. The first fight was two years ago. Neither of us were champion then. He became champion, good for him. And I just knocked him out in the first round. Luke's an incredible fighter. He probably has better technical skill than I do. He's going to go away and do it the old-fashioned way like I had to."
While a rubber match certainly has promotional appeal considering their vitriolic feud, there is no dearth of viable challengers in the middleweight division at the moment. Former champion Chris Weidman just had successful neck surgery and is looking to get back later this year. Yoel Romero is coming off of his USADA suspension soon and is on a 7 fight win streak in the division, not to mention the built in story line of Bisping who has been vocally against Romero and his USADA violations. Then there is also Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza who demolished Vitor Belfort in May and whose only loss since entering the UFC is a controversial split decision to Yoel Romero who tested positive for a banned substance after the fight. All are worthy challengers but Bisping was cagey in who was next.
"Unfortunately, I'm not going to give you a name. There is someone I've got my eye on, but ultimately it's down to the UFC. I do get a say since I'm the champion, so that's nice. But I've never turned down an opponent and I certainly don't intend to start as a champion. We'll see what happens. There's plenty of viable contenders. Defending the title in the U.K. is certainly something I'd love to do, and I've already made it clear to Dana White that I would like to do that."
The person Bisping has his eye on may well be former two division Pride champion Dan Henderson. On Wednesday, Bisping retweeted a story about Henderson wanting "another crack" at Bisping.
Henderson owns a win over Bisping, knocking him out cold in one of the most brutal finishes in UFC history. And while Henderson's recent stretch in the UFC isn't exactly the most meritorious as far as a title shot is concerned, Henderson did record a similarly brilliant finish on Saturday, knocking out Hector Lombard with a back elbow. A rematch would give Bisping an opportunity at revenge, would be an excellent way to honor the other worldly career of Dan Henderson, and would be imminently marketable.
Henderson being the person Bisping is targeting is just speculation, but one guy Bisping certainly doesn't believe he should fight is Weidman. Yesterday on his Instagram account, Weidman posted a video of Bisping before UFC 199 saying he would fight Weidman after taking the belt from Rockhold and called the current champion a "bum."
It didn't take long for Bisping to respond via twitter, demanding Rockhold and Weidman rematch as originally planned but this time in a No. 1 contender's bout and suggesting that Weidman is ducking Rockhold.
@ChrisWeidmanUFC wants a title fight. Coming off a loss?. Win a fight. Maybe against rockhold first, Like originally planned.— michael (@bisping) June 9, 2016
While Weidman is coming off a loss, it wouldn't be the first time in UFC history a fighter has challenged for the title off the back of a loss and the UFC may see Weidman, a former champion, as the best option. Bisping has long maintained that he will never turn down a fight so it will be interesting to see if the UFC caters to Bisping's wishes or presents him with something else. Still, the plethora of options available to Bisping means Weidman does not have to be a priority for the champion.
Finally, Bisping ended the interview by addressing his use of a homophobic slur in the heat of his post fight argument with Rockhold, apologizing for the indiscretion.
"I'm hesitant to make a statement, because it kind of throws fuel on the fire, but the fact of the matter is that's not a word that is generally in my vocabulary. Growing up in northern England, that's a word used a lot and it wasn't a homophobic slur. It was more when you refer to somebody as a wimp, that type of thing. That was how we used the word. Now, of course, I'm a grown man and I realize the negative connotations and associations that word has and it's a word I don't use. But Luke and I were in a heated argument and I kind of went back to the memory bank of an insult I used when I was at school and it just came out. As soon as I said it, I said, 'Oh s---, what on earth did I say that for?' I'm not homophobic in the slightest. I have lots of gay friends and associates. If I did cause any offense to anybody, I profusely apologize because that's not me."
Bisping's immediate recognition of the error and his professional and mature response here should put any controversy to bed. Now all that remains is for Bisping to declare who his first challenger will be.
5 MUST-READ STORIES
Unfair? Mark Hunt thinks Brock Lesnar is "juiced to the gills."
Remembering Kimbo. Mike Brown talks about his friend and teammate Kimbo Slice.
Surgery. Chris Weidman undergoes successful neck surgery.
Biopic. Jose Aldo believes it is impossible not to cry after watching his new biopic.
First loser. UFC 199 prelims were the second most watched sports event on Saturday.
EXTRA CREDIT READING
Turnover. Writing for The Guardian, Josh Gross discusses whether the recent title upsets in the UFC help or hurt the organization.
Dagestan. Karim Zidan of Bloody Elbow delves into the strange and horrifying circumstances around Shahbulat Chamhalaev, the former Bellator fighter who was shot 6 times in Dagestan and then tried to leave the hospital.
Rory calling Woodley a tune up fight for Lawler. Rough goings for Tyron. A lot of fighters seem to think he doesn't deserve this title shot.
If Wonderboy finishes Rory, and doesn't get a title shot, something is seriously wrong.
One of the OG MMA reporters Josh Gross wrote a book on Ali vs. Inoki that I am pumped about reading when it comes out.
Pretty good promo right here.
Mark Hunt shared this on his Facebook.
Buffer speaking with Paul Heyman about Brock.
If Ian McCall's personality doesn't rub you the wrong way, his podcast is pretty great. Different, interesting people and stories.
But who y'all got?
Pitbull trying to get tested.
Soul stealing is all the rage these days.
Terry Crews firing shots at our very own Luke Thomas.
The heavy wallet in my back pocket threw my form off https://t.co/tp7rOAI3QO— terrycrews (@terrycrews) June 9, 2016
Sage hates sleeves more than Ronda hates arms.
Now who is stripes and who's solids pic.twitter.com/48OiwNfqZJ— Sage Northcutt (@sagenorthcutt) June 9, 2016
So would we all Elias. So would we all.
Like to see Dan finally win that championship, just like Bisping. Not sure Lombard W warrants that, but money talks.https://t.co/YS2JpbwFPX— The Spartan (@EliasTheodorou) June 9, 2016
Seriously starting to get my hopes up that this happens. Bisping title defense in England. Do it.
JBJ rocking that Pride shirt.
Very well may be the angle but Reem doesn't look that much bigger than Cerrone here.
Colby Covington (8-1-0) vs. Jonathan Meunier (7-0-0); UFC Fight Night 89, June 18.
TODAY IN MMA HISTORY
2001: Cheick Kongo made his professional MMA debut, submitting André Tete with a heel hook at Rings Holland: No Guts, No Glory.
2010: WMMA GOAT Megumi Fujii scored the only knockout of her career, stopping Sarah Schneider with punches at Bellator 21. This even also marked the Bellator debut of future 135 lb. champion Zach Makovsky as well as Pat Curran defeating Toby Imada to win the season two lightweight tournament.
Think I missed a spot? Found something you'd like to see in the Morning Report? Just hit me up on Twitter @JedKMeshew and we'll include it in tomorrow's column.