Michael Bisping and Anthony Smith have seen enough of champions trying to abandon their division in pursuit of a second title.
The days of UFC fighters like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva dominating their respective divisions are seemingly over. Nowadays, fighters begin lobbying for another division’s gold moments after winning their own, and while those champion vs. champion clashes can be undeniably exciting, they only serve to hold up a division filled with talent fighting for their shot.
The most recent example comes from reigning welterweight titleholder Leon Edwards. ‘Rocky’ will make his second title defense since claiming the crown from former champion Kamaru Usman in August 2022.
Once his impending clash with Colby Covington is in the books, Edwards plans on moving up to middleweight to challenge the winner of January’s showdown between 185-pound champ Sean Strickland and South African standout Dricus Du Plessis. That has already created a heap of frustration for fighters like Belal Muhammad who have been patiently waiting for their earned opportunity at Edwards’ title.
“I think you’ve got to clear our your division,” Anthony Smith said via Michael Bisping’s YouTube channel. “Leon moving up, that one hits a little harder than some of the previous ones. Like, c’mon dude. I like Leon a lot. Big fan, but he’s only ever fought Kamaru Usman in title fights. There are a lot of title challengers coming. You got his next fight with Colby. Belal is going to be in there. You’ve got some up-and-comers. Shavkat [Rakhmonov]. Ian Garry.
“There’s guys we got to keep rolling. He’s got a tough list of people coming his way. I just don’t know if now is the right time to move up.”
‘Lionheart’ believes Edwards’ motivation to move up is all based on who currently holds the middleweight championship.
“Of course, he’s going to want to move up right now,” Smith continued. “If Khamzat [Chimaev] was the champion, I don’t know if we’d see Leon running to middleweight so quickly, but I think we have a champion in Sean Strickland that he believes matches up well with him and it stylistically makes a lot of sense. I agree with some of the frustration, but if I had a world title, maybe I’d do the same sh*t.”
Should There Be a Rule Preventing UFC Champions From Jumping Division? Michael Bisping Says No.
Some have suggested a rule be implemented that prevents champions from challenging another division’s titleholder until they’ve defended their own gold a certain number of times. In theory, it makes sense, but Michael Bisping believes it just opens the door for opportunities to escape.
“I think it would be too much of a stretch to bring in a defined rule like you have to defend it at least three times because you just never know and I think because of that… In theory, it’s great, but I think you might have possibilities for missed opportunities for certain fights down the line,” Bisping said.
“Look at the madness that just had [Alexander] Volkanovski and Kamaru [Usman] stepping up on short notice. We just had Tom Aspinall. That’s different, but you know what I mean. Sometimes sh*t happens and they’ve got to shuffle the deck.”
Putting a specific number on the required amount of defenses would ultimately lead to rulebreaking and disappointment, but both men firmly believe that fighters should be taking on their own division’s contenders before trying to add another belt to their mantle.
“I think generally the practice should be you gotta go through most of [your division],” Bisping concluded.
Watch the full segment below: