When former Middleweight champion Chris Weidman's neck injury forced his withdrawal from this weekend's UFC 199 main event against current title-holder Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping smelled blood in the water.
As soon as Weidman's injury hit the newswires, Bisping placed himself at the summit of the list of potential replacements. He's been with the company for ten years. He just beat Anderson Silva. If not now, when?
Weidman's misfortune is very much Bisping's gain. When the Mancunian laces up his gloves in the UFC for the 26th time this weekend he will be doing it on barely three weeks notice. This type of truncated training camp rarely yields results at the highest level of the sport but Bisping remains undeterred, with this being his clearest sight at UFC gold in his decade-long tenure with the UFC. All his life, he says, he has been waiting for this moment. But what about the fans?
The UFC has suffered through an unfortunate year thus far when it comes to fighter withdrawals, with numerous bouts being afflicted by the so-called 'injury bug'. Jon Jones v Daniel Cormier became Jon Jones v Ovince St. Preux, Khabib Nurmamogedov v Tony Ferguson was replaced entirely by Rashad Evans and Glover Teixera. Conor McGregor v Rafael Dos Anjos? Well, we all know what happened there.
It's a hard pill for UFC fans to swallow, particularly when you're asking them to buy tickets to a fight several months ahead of time that may not even happen. The tickets that the UFC sell do include the phrase 'Card Subject To Change' but it seems, in recent times at least, that maxim has become more a promise than a threat.
While the Rockhold v Weidman rematch is the best fight the UFC Middleweight division has to offer at the moment, Rockhold v Bisping (itself also a rematch) is not without its own sense of intrigue. Rockhold submitted Bisping in their first bout in November 2014 and, while Bisping cites success at sparring sessions against his opponent in years gone by, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone without the last name Bisping predicting victory for the Englishman this weekend.
Rockhold is a fierce, agile fighter and will enter the cage this weekend in the height of his career. He boasts an arsenal of varied techniques all bedded down on a foundation of excellent kickboxing and BJJ and comes into his first title defence promising a knockout in the very first frame.
Bisping, now 37, is one of the division's mainstays. A hard-working pressure fighter, Bisping hasn't been blessed with the same type of bludgeoning power that some of his peers rely upon so he employs a gritty, in-your-face style of fighting which has proved too much for practically everyone he's faced, bar the division elite. A bad omen, one might say, considering that Luke Rockhold is about as elite as it gets in modern MMA.
In the co-main event of UFC 199, Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz squares off with old foe Urijah Faber in a, yep you've guessed it, rematch. The Cruz/Faber rivalry currently stands at 1-1 but it's the champion who is seemingly coming into the contest with a sense of momentum after appearing to somehow improve as a fighter despite having his career temporarily shelved due to an almost never-ending series of injuries.
Faber's UFC career so far has been punctuated by losses in title bouts. He's 0-3 under the UFC banner when fighting for a title and a fourth defeat this weekend would surely spell the end of The California Kid's time as a bona fide divisional contender. His style isn't going to be a surprise either, as it has remained somewhat constant from his days as the WEC Featherweight champion. A stocky wrestler with a powerful overhand punch and an anaconda-like guillotine choke, Faber rarely veers too far from the style of fighting which has gotten him to the top of the game. His opponent, Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, couldn't be more different.
Cruz employs a dazzling, Willie Pep inspired style of footwork which allows him to attack from strange, elusive angles and dart away before the counter shot is even launched (75% of strikes thrown at Cruz don't land, as per fightmetric.com). Cruz's modus operandi is to use his technical striking to establish a lead and then continue to pick off his opponents as the rounds expire and as they become increasingly desperate to close the gap, Cruz simply widens it even further.
The narrative for the two featured bouts on this weekend's UFC 199 card is focussed squarely on two of the UFC's most loyal fighters never to have held a gold belt, both underdogs and both facing what appears on paper to be an insurmountable challenge. If this was a Disney movie, they'd both win.
Disney this ain't, though.
Balls.ie UFC 199 Main Card Fight Picks
MW - Luke Rockhold (C) v Michael Bisping - Rockhold by decision
BW - Dominick Cruz (C) v Urijah Faber - Cruz by decision
FW - Max Holloway v Ricardo Lamas - Holloway by TKO, Round 2
MW - Dan Henderson v Hector Lombard - Lombard by TKO, Round 1
LW - Dustin Poirier v Bobby Green - Poirier by TKO, Round 3