This Saturday night, the UFC will make its long awaited debut in glimmering New York City with UFC 205. To celebrate this debut in The Big Apple, the promotion has stacked the UFC 205 lineup with a whopping three title fights, as gold at lightweight, welterweight, and strawweight will be up for grabs.
Of course, there is far more to UFC 205 than its trio of title fights. The rest of the card is stacked to the brim with exciting and relevant matchups, many of which could easily headline a Fight Night card or co-headline a pay-per-view. And while it's certainly up for debate, it's easy to argue that the most important of UFC 205's nine non-title fights is the last, which will pit former middleweight champion Chris Weidman against former Olympic wrestler Yoel Romero. The appeal of this fight is not only that it should be very entertaining, but that it could well provide the next challenger for reigning middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
Strangely, however, that's not really the way the fight is being talked about. Though Weidman is constantly discussed as a potential opponent for Bisping, very little noise is being made about the possibility of Romero's being the next man to challenge for middleweight gold, and really, this is a very real possibility.
In advance of this fight, Romero has been identified as something in the area of a +155 underdog by nearly every betting outlet. Though this reflects the fact that Weidman should win, it also reflects the chance that Romero could very easily come out on top. Odds-makers expect the American to win, but these odds suggest they're far from confident about it. With an absurd wrestling acumen, ridiculous power, and blinding speed, Romero is as live as underdogs come.
Yet when it comes to the middleweight title conversation, his name is rarely mentioned.
Weidman certainly hasn't given much of an indication that he's too worried about a Romero upset. Nearly all of the sound bites he's produced in the buildup to UFC 205 have been about Bisping and the title shot he expects to get when he beats Romero.
Just days ago, for example, the former champ talked with MMAFighting.com about the title shot he expects to get after UFC 205, and gave little to no mention of the massive test in front of him as he did.
"I go out there and win on Saturday night and I'm guaranteed [the title shot]," Weidman told the site. "Yeah there's no question. Bisping is going to try to ask for a couple of more welterweights and some more people that are retired, but at the end of the day I'm going to get the title shot."
But what if Romero wins?
Well, while Bisping was at least willing to acknowledge this possibility, he recently claimed that he'd turn down a fight with the former Olympian, even if he upsets Weidman.
"If Yoel beats Chris, I honestly don't think I'll fight Yoel, because he tested positive for steroids," Bisping said on a recent episode of his podcast The Countdown with Michael Bisping & Luis J Gomez. "I read an article recently that said that it takes years for the advantages of taking steroids to get out of your system. Just because you don't test positive anymore doesn't mean you'll lose all the extra muscle and stuff like that that you were able to achieve. So I think he needs longer, I really do, and I don't see why he should be rewarded. If Weidman wins, that's the fight I want. Me and Weidman, for a little while now, I'd say probably the last year, have gone back and forth, back and forth, talking shit, and yeah, it's a fight that interests me. 100%."
The glaring problem with Bisping's reasoning here, of course, is that Romero didn't really test positive for steroids. Though he was flagged by the United States Anti-Doping Agency earlier this year, this unfortunate twist was ultimately deemed to be the result of his consumption of tainted supplements. Shady as the whole ordeal was, it's not like the Cuban contender willingly cheated. And so, if he defeats a former champ in Weidman, it'll be very hard to deny him a title shot on that basis alone.
If you've gotten this far in this article, you're probably wondering about Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. The Brazilian grappling wizard is a definite contender at middleweight, and his name should be mentioned in any debates pertaining to the next middleweight title challenger.
The thing is, Jacare recently lost to Romero. Yes, the fight was extremely close. And yes, Romero's unsavory brush with USADA occurred in the fallout of this fight. The fact remains, however, that Romero holds a recent win over Jacare, and so, if the title race were to come down to the two of them, the shot would simply have to go to him.
Now, let me backtrack. When the UFC takes over New York City this Saturday, Weidman's well-rounded skillset, cement chin, thudding power, and respectable cardio should carry him to a win over Romero. With gunmetal pressed against our temples, this is the prediction pretty much all of us would make. It's about time, however, that we start acknowledging the very real possibility of a Romero win. In acknowledging this possibility, we must also accept that if it becomes reality, Romero will probably be the most deserving fighter of a middleweight title shot—whether fans, journalists, and Bisping himself like it or not.