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Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre makes you wonder about the meaning of ‘next’

UFC 204 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

At this point, you can’t stop to admire the pretty flower on Dana White’s vest without expecting a little ink on the nose. There’s a practical joke to be found in many of the proceedings these days with the UFC under the new ownership group at WME-IMG, which was in evidence on Tuesday when it was officially announced that Demian Maia would face Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211 in Dallas.

That’s a rib-nudger if there ever was one. Maia, who was promised a title shot after taking out Carlos Condit in August, is booked into a fight just four days before Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson could bring clarity to his situation?

Maia is today’s chopped liver. And just down the dirty display is Yoel Romero, the day-old pimiento loaf. Romero, who was smart enough to call out Michael Bisping after destroying Chris Weidman at UFC 205, won’t be getting near “The Count” anytime soon. That’s because on Wednesday, White went on SportsCenter to break the news that welterweight great Georges St-Pierre — who is returning after three years away, and has never competed at 185 pounds — will next challenge Bisping for the middleweight title. It wasn’t a surprise, necessarily. This is a fight that has been campaigned for by the fighters and their factions for a while.

But what the hell is it, exactly?

Let’s start with the basics: There will be a title in play. That’s the easiest way to think of it. But then again, come on — look where that belt’s been. That particular belt has been off on a wild adventure, hitting all the honky-tonks and bars, running red lights, ignoring sirens and crashing through barricades. No good is going to come of that. That belt’s heading to jail, one way or the other.

How did we get here?

Weidman was supposed to fight Luke Rockhold in June, when Bisping was off shooting a movie in Toronto. Then Weidman got hurt, Bisping jumped in on short notice, knocked Rockhold out, and presto — the middleweight division done broke into the whiskey cabinet. No knock on Bisping, but it makes you really think twice about whom you should be rooting for to hold the belt. Rockhold wasn’t going to defend the belt against Dan Henderson had he got by Bisping, and it’s doubtful he’d be booked against GSP. Rockhold would have kept things flowing. That upset at UFC 199 changed everything.

As maybe it should have, given that Bisping has a completely different odometer.

His first title defense against Henderson was justifiable if you looked at it as a kind of lifetime achievement award. He lost to Henderson at UFC 100 in the cruelest way possible, and here was his chance to avenge the loss, in his native Manchester, in what everyone knew was Hendo’s last fight. All of that was poetic and ultimately fine, so long as he was going to get on with facing actual contenders in the next fight.

The thing is, Bisping took one hell of a beating against Henderson, and his prospects against Romero (or Ronaldo Souza) didn’t exactly inspire optimism. Still, that’s what he inherited when he beat Rockhold — the full lot of menacing contenders. The burden to defend.

Only, you know, he didn’t. Romero was a clear-cut next contender for Bisping, and he was cast aside to bring back St-Pierre, who didn’t see the point of adding the necessary muscle/weight to fight Anderson Silva back when the “superfight” conversation was at its loudest. Now he returns to fight for the middleweight title, and that’s the craziest damn thing imaginable.

What happens if GSP wins? Is he going to fight Romero? Jacare? Rockhold? If the “New UFC” is booking Bisping against name fighters ahead of contenders, what happens when GSP — a bigger name fighter still, who has also taken his share of damage over the years — holds that estranged accessory of genuine leather and gold?

It’s really the belt that makes everything awkward. The belt is the elephant in the room, the burden in play, the ransom note being read aloud to the room. If Michael Bisping the champion were just Michael Bisping the warrior, GSP making his come back fight against him would look like a merciful idea from both sides. Bisping could try and take out another GOAT-type in the twilight of his career, and St-Pierre would be getting an intriguing challenge at a different weight class.

Put the belt in play, and it all changes. When Bisping intervened by taking the title at UFC 199 unexpectedly, who could have known what strange twists and turns laid in store? A little over a month after he won the title, the UFC was sold. In the new world of WME-IMG, Bisping versus GSP doesn’t have to have anything to do with the future. Just like when Holly Holm fought Germaine de Randamie for the inaugural featherweight title at UFC 208 without the formation of a division, the question of “what next?” sort of lost its meaning. For years, the UFC was careful to think several steps ahead.

These days, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There isn’t an obvious next. There wasn’t a next for Maia, and nor was there a next for Romero. GSP-Bisping is a fun bout, there’s no denying how great those fighters have been, but what does it say to contenders in the division, and where is it all headed?

It’s saying that you might want to look in the mirror, as there seems to be a little ink on your nose.

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