Michael Bisping has been the ultimate company man but in Shanghai the company failed the man.
It’s stating the obvious now, of course, but the Brit’s rapid return to action after being choked unconscious by Georges St-Pierre three weeks ago in New York was just way too soon.
But in a sport of dire consequences, the dangers are very real and this was a fight unnecessary at every level.
For Bisping, he saw the bout as a cathartic exercise and a mechanism to release the demons of defeat to GSP. In reality patience was all he required.
The plan to retire in the UK when the promotion returned to London next March was both fitting and fair.
The 38-year-old would have had time to recover physically and mentally following the loss of his middleweight title and the tributes for a Hall-of-Fame career would have been in celebration rather than mourning.
Regardless of the mitigating circumstances, a two-fight losing skid less than a month apart in which he was left unconscious both times is a terrible look for all.
It’s incredibly short-sighted on the UFC’s part and the hypocrisy is maddening when you consider on one hand their attempts to clean up the sport – think USADA – but then on the other allow a fighter to compete three weeks after being knocked down, repeatedly elbowed and then choked out.
It’s one step forward and two back straight into the dark ages. Bisping is a warrior in every sense of the word but the UFC abandoned their duty of care.
Granted, the shot he took would have levelled anyone as Gastelum uncorked a one-two with pin-point accuracy in the first round. The head of any middleweight would have snapped back because his speed, precision and power is lethal.
But the one-two combination was as heavy as the one and two losses Bisping has now suffered and it leaves us shuddering at the thought of what’s next.
“I just want to say congratulations to Kelvin Gastelum,” Bisping said post-fight. “Job well done tonight. I was enjoying myself, and he caught me with a good shot.
“God bless Kelvin. He’s young. I’ve done this for a long time. I’m getting old.”
Bisping is aging quick in a sport which ruthlessly waits for no man.
There was talk Yoel Romero could send him off into retirement given the intrigue behind their bitter feud but a fight that tough would be akin to the send off for an inmate on death row.
UFC commentator Dan Hardy’s suggestion of Lyoto Machida makes sense, as does a rematch with Vitor Belfort. Both represent winnable fights against opponents no longer relevant at the top of the division.
But the summit of 185lbs is exactly where Gastelum belongs.
The 26-year-old has firmly put his suffocating defeat to Chris Weidman in the rearview mirror and has established himself as a title contender.
“I heard Robert Whittaker needs a main event over in Australia for February and I’m up the challenge,” Gastelum said in the post-fight press conference. “You guys say I beat up all the elderly, and Robert Whittaker is definitely not an elderly, he’s probably my age, so I’m up for the challenge.
“Anything can happen in the sport of MMA, you know. I feel like Robert Whittaker and I should be next. We’re two young guys who haven’t even hit our prime yet, and I just beat the guy who was the guy so I think I should be next.”
A scrap between two young hungry athletes at the top of their game is what this sport should be about. Hopefully in future the company recognises that.
BISPING’S RETIREMENT PLANS
Fighting Romero in a retirement fight is a horrific prospect but their feuding backdrop is an element of interest. Still, it’s the worst possible match-up for Bisping and should be avoided.
A winnable fight with the context of Bisping’s heavily damaged eye caused by a vicious Belfort headkick in their first fight.
The Dragon has lost four of his last five fights and at 39 is also in the twilight stage of his career. A recognisable name and a fight which would allow Bisping to showcase his striking.
Evans presents another opportunity to right a previous defeat and having lost four straight – two since moving down to middleweight – it’s not a dangerous bout to take.