After just four years as a professional fighter, UFC middleweight Chris Weidman finds himself on the precipice of greatness when he meets MMA’s most decorated champion, Anderson “The Spider” Silva, at UFC 162 on July 6 in Las Vegas.
Since debuting for the UFC in 2006, Silva has become a household name around the world. He is the company’s longest reigning champion, amassing an unheard of streak of 16 consecutive victories inside the Octagon, earning the consensus title of “Greatest of All-Time” in the process.
Currently standing at a record 10 title defenses, each time Silva steps into the cage he enters rarefied air that makes even the most accomplished champions blush.
Chris Weidman enters the cage in July an undefeated fighter, but with much less experience than the champion.
Having earned a five-fight winning streak inside the Octagon since making his promotional debut in 2011, Weidman has dispatched opponents using his Matt Serra purple belt-level jiu-jitsu, All-American wrestling, and ever-improving stand-up skills.
Just months before Weidman made his UFC debut, Anderson Silva made his seventh title defense in what became the toughest test of his now legendary career, when he battled Chael Sonnen in August 2010 at UFC 117.
Sonnen battered Silva for the majority of the 25 minutes, only to succumb to a fight-ending triangle choke with seconds left in the final round.
The bout is largely considered one of the greatest fights in MMA history, both for Sonnen’s domination of Silva, and also for Silva’s late-round heroics that kept his undefeated streak inside the Octagon alive.
For many, UFC 117 has become a “blueprint” on how to solve the fighting enigma that has become Anderson Silva.
With his showdown in the desert against Silva rapidly approaching, Weidman acknowledges the Sonnen fight has merit when looking at ways to defeat the champion, but he had confidence that he could defeat Silva even before that fight.
“I always thought I had better wrestling,” Weidman told MMAweekly.com during a recent media tour in support of UFC 162.
“I thought I had the length and athleticism to be aware on the feet to when I could strike for my takedowns and look to punch. And when I hit the ground, I always felt confident in my jiu-jitsu. So it wasn’t like I saw the Chael Sonnen fight and said, ‘Oh, my God! Look! I can beat him!’ It was way before that.”
Maybe that’s why Weidman has been calling for a Silva fight since early 2012.
It started innocently enough during a post-fight interview with Weidman respectfully claiming that he could give Silva problems if given the opportunity. The sound bite came on the heels of Weidman’s highlight-reel knockout of top-ranked Mark Munoz in July 2012 and marked one of the first times the historically tight-lipped New Yorker called out the middleweight champ.
Slowly, the soft-spoken grinder began campaigning more heavily for a fight with Silva. As the months went by, his pleas for a title fight were falling on deaf ears.
At one point during the build-up, all hopes of a potential scrap were halted when Silva mentioned that he had no interest in fighting Weidman. Silva’s management cited “little name value,” when referencing the lesser-known challenger.
Weidman, however, thinks it was his skill, not promotional value, that prompted Silva to initially nix the bout.
“I think there are a couple of reasons (why Silva didn’t want to fight me). The number one reason, I am a terrible match-up for him,” stated the 28-year-old.
“On paper I think I have him beat in more areas than he has me beat. I don’t think he’s ever fought a guy who has him beat in as many areas as I do. I’m young. I’m hungry. I don’t have the biggest name, so people are going to expect him to beat me. I think he knows being a smart guy and being around the MMA game that it’s not going to be an easy fight.“
Unfortunately for Weidman, Silva could not be deterred, and he was forced to move on in his still-blossoming career.
After his campaign for a chance at Silva failed, it was announced that Weidman would instead meet Tim Boetsch in December 2012 at UFC 155. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury forced Weidman to withdraw from the fight shortly after the bout agreements had been signed.
The injury, coupled with Silva’s unwillingness to fight, unquestionably added to Weidman’s brewing frustrations.
“Right after I beat Mark Munoz, and he beat Sonnen the second time, he said he wanted to fight again three months later,” Weidman proclaimed with a hint of displeasure.
“After I beat Mark Munoz, everyone was saying that was the fight to make (Silva vs. Weidman). UFC wanted to do it. Then he said he wanted to wait until 2013 and take a break. So at that point, I got frustrated. I’m like, ‘what the heck are you doing; you need to take a break?’
“So I waited and got injured. I got matched up with Tim Boetsch and got injured again, and then other fighters started stepping up. So I figured, okay, I’ll probably be fighting again. So I figured I’d have to start getting back in shape and recover from my injuries to fight again.”
It was then that the universe intervened, opening a path of good fortune for the Baldwin, N.Y., native.
“Then everybody started losing,” he recalled.
“Every other contender lost and I was right back to where I started. (Silva fought Bonnar) and now he has to fight again. Now he has to take a fight against a middleweight, and I’m the only contender, and now he’s forced to fight me.”
It can’t be overstated how much Weidman’s fortunes changed in 2013.
On top of the aforementioned shoulder injury, Weidman also suffered extensive damage to his boyhood home in 2012 during the historic east coast storm Hurricane Sandy.
Those two events were preceded by the UFC on FOX 2 card in January, when Weidman took a fight with jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia on just 10 days notice.
The bout with Maia saw Weidman battle a horrific 24-hour, 20-pound weight cut – a cut that came just days after he found a beloved relative dead during an unexpected house call.
Weidman chronicled the unfortunate scene during an interview with MMAWeekly.com at the 2012 World MMA Awards back in February.
“I took that fight on 10 days notice, and the next day my uncle dies,” he reflected.
“He doesn’t just die; he falls on his face down stairs – smashed his face in – and I had to clean up his blood. And I actually didn’t go the funeral, I went to the wake,” Weidman said as tears welled in his eyes.
Admittedly, Weidman thought about cancelling the Maia fight. And given the circumstances, no one would have blamed him.
Weidman didn’t turn away from life’s roadblocks, though. He instead went out and fought the ground-fighting wizard to a well-earned decision victory, with his uncle serving as a primary inspiration.
As they say, “adversity is the dust that polishes the diamond,” and as Weidman now reflects on a chaotic 2012, he sits on the cusp of the fight he has been waiting for his entire life – a fight that comes almost one year, to the day, after defeating Munoz.
“All that stuff just grew me as a person and as a fighter,” he proclaimed, adamant about using adversity as further motivation to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming a world champion.
“Just putting myself in tough positions, like, taking a 10-day notice fight against Demian Maia. I was not in shape at all. Had to cut all that weight. Even the Alessio Sakara fight I took on two-and-a-half-weeks notice (also, Weidman’s UFC debut). The fight before that, in Ring of Combat, I took (a fight) on two weeks notice against another tough guy,” he recalled.
“All those tough times, where you could make excuses for yourself on why you should lose, and then having the mental mindset to refuse those things entering my mind, and now I finally have an opportunity where everything looks perfect. I have a full training camp against the greatest of all-time. It’s been a dream since day one. There’s no excuse for me to lose this fight.”
Some may label Weidman “green,” seeing he has just nine professional bouts on his record. Lack of experience aside, Weidman already has one of the most important things a young fighter can attain, the ability to visualize any outcome and deal accordingly.
“I envision every different scenario, just so when I get in there, they’re no surprises,” said the Matt Serra product.
“I expect the worst of every situation, so if it does happen I’m prepared for it. I envision it going exactly the way I want: I punch him in the face, take him down, and submit him.
“I envision me knocking him out. I envision him stunning me – I’m barely out – I persevere and I end up finding a way to win.”
Weidman holds a degree in psychology from the University of Hofstra. As a two-time All-American wrestler, he chose psychology as a hobby and a matter of convenience that eventually turned into a passion.
It’s a passion that should suit him well as he meets the notoriously frustrating Brazilian on July 6 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“There could be a point said that he’s being cocky, or he’s trying to make people look bad,” said Weidman when referencing Silva’s propensity for in-cage taunting and unconventional antics.
“But the way I look at it is that he’s mentally breaking that guy. He’s mentally defeating him. (They think) this guy is so relaxed. He has his hands down. He’s pretending that he’s practicing different arts. When he fought Demian Maia, I think he was doing, like, drunken boxing, then he changed it up to something else.
“When you’re in the cage and you have your hands up, and you’re very structured and tense, and you see the guy you’re going against is doing that, it’s gonna freakin’ blow your mind. Like, ‘Oh, my God! This guy is going to kill me whenever he wants!’ It might look like he’s being very cocky – which might be true a little bit – (but) I think it’s definitely a bigger thing of mentally breaking them.”
So how does Weidman overcome the most perplexing, aggressive, and mentally cunning fighter to ever step inside the cage?
By doing what he knows best.
“I’m gonna be in his face, punching him, kicking him and looking for that takedown,” he declared.
“I just think my skill-set might be a better match-up. I think I’m going to stay more relaxed than Sonnen did, and I think that’s going to be the difference. I get on top of him and it’s going to be a relaxed, consistent aggression of submissions.
“It’s not just going to be me uptight and tense, and punching in every situation. It’s going to be picked spots of devastating ground and pound and then submission attempts.”
Weidman is quick to adorn Silva with praise, and equally quick to assure any possible slight of Silva will be met with a “not to take anything away” or “with all respect to.”
It’s a rare trait that Weidman possesses: to be able to devalue and praise someone at the exact same time.
Perhaps the hesitation is, in part, because Weidman self-identifies as being a respectful guy.
This, however, is the fight game – the entertainment business – something Weidman is keenly aware of.
“I guess I have be a little bit more vocal,” he announced matter-of-factly.
“This is to support my family and if I have to be a little bit more vocal then I’m going to do it, even if it doesn’t come naturally and it’s not really my style.”
Weidman straddles the line of confidence and cocky quite well, even if he’s forcing some of it.
When talk of a rematch began – if he is victorious – Weidman let it be known that with MMA legalization hopefully passing soon in New York State, he would love to do a second fight with Silva at the mecca of American sporting arenas, Madison Square Garden.
“Listen, I’m not even being cocky or arrogant when I say I’ll give him an immediate rematch,” stated Weidman.
“You have to believe you’re going to win; I believe I’m going to win. He’s had 10 title defenses. His only option, after I beat him, is to retire or have a rematch with me.”
With all due respect, of course.
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