Expect fireworks when the UFC returns to the TD Garden on Friday night, as former middleweight champion Chris Weidman steps up in weight class to face undefeated light-heavyweight star Dominick Reyes in a main event showdown.
While the bout is a classic match-up between a living legend and a rising contender, it actually marks a bit of new territory for Weidman. The 35-year-old New York native isn’t just going up to 205 lbs. for the first time in his career, he’s also taking on a new role as the experienced veteran who must halt the momentum of a hungry new kid on the block.
As someone who was once in Reyes’ position – having famously slayed the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time in back-to-back bouts against Anderson Silva in 2013 – Weidman knows how dangerous an energized up-and-comer can be. That’s why the former champ isn’t taking Reyes lightly ahead of their battle in Boston.
“It’s a tough fight,” says Weidman. “He’s definitely hungry. He sees his future being bright.”
“I was there at one point too,” he adds. “I just think there’s levels to this game. I’m going to show him that I’m on a different level.”
As for Reyes, the 29-year-old California native and former college football star knows that Friday will be the biggest fight of his career. In addition to facing a dangerous veteran in Weidman, this weekend’s showdown will be the first time he steps into a cage as part of a main event. With a perfect 11-0 record and five straight wins against tough competition since joining the UFC, Reyes doesn’t plan on wasting his shot.
“WIth this fight, if I go out and do what I know I’m capable of, there will be no doubt that I’m the guy,” says Reyes.
Although both men are at different points in their careers, they share a singular goal: beating Jon Jones for the light-heavyweight crown. The reigning titleholder remains the king of the division, despite his numerous controversies in and out of the Octagon, which is why Weidman and Reyes will stop at nothing for a shot at the belt.
For Weidman, the road to Jones may not be the easiest. Despite being the former middleweight champ and owning wins over Silva and other top fighters, he comes into Friday’s fight riding a bit of skid, having lost four out of his last five fights since losing the middleweight title in 2015. While he’s not looking past Reyes and is willing to fight his way up the 205 lb. ladder, Weidman admits that beating Jones would become one of his favorite career highlights.
“[Beating Silva] is the highlight of my career,” says Weidman. “I don’t know if I’ll beat that. Maybe beating Jon Jones is right up there. That’s what I’m chasing.”
“I think I have all the tools it takes to take it to him,” he adds, noting his jiu-jitsu skills, pace and background as a former Division I All-American wrestler.
Reyes isn’t overlooking his next opponent either, praising Weidman as “the most complete martial artist” he’s ever faced. However, he’s equally as excited to hopefully take on Jones for the light-heavyweight championship one day, which may come sooner rather than later should he defeat Weidman and add another win to his spotless record.
“[Jones] was the champ when I first started,” Reyes says. “He’s always been a guy I had on my radar.”
“I think the world wants to see a guy who is capable of taking out Jon,” he adds. “If I go out and show that, then everything will take care of itself.”
At the end of the day, though, both men share another goal that transcends sports. Sure, they want to go down in the history books as the greatest fighters of all-time, but Weidman and Reyes also want to leave legacies of respect and hard work.
“Just a hard-working guy who believed in himself and accomplished a lot,” Weidman says of how he wants to be remembered. “Someone who was a good role model for kids and kept it real.”
“I’m fighting for the hard-working people who do the right thing,” says Reyes.