Chris Weidman was in Albany with Lorenzo Fertitta speaking to politicians about the legalization of mixed martial arts in New York when the UFC co-owner asked for a private moment.
In that instant, Weidman heard the words he had longed to hear.
“[Fertitta] actually said, ‘Hey, I just [want to] let you know I spoke with [UFC President] Dana [White, who] spoke with Anderson Silva [last] weekend and you’re fighting [him],'” Weidman said following a recent training session at Ray Longo’s gym in Garden City. “I said, ‘Awesome.’It’s one of those opportunities of a lifetime. Fight the greatest of all time.”
On July 6, Weidman will challenge Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight Championship at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center at UFC 162. Weidman enters the fight with 9-0 record as a professional. He is 5-0 in the UFC. His last win was a second round knockout of Mark Munoz last July that solidified his status as the middleweight division’s top contender in the eyes of UFC executives.
“I think he’s proven himself,” Longo said of his star pupil. “The training so far has been going great. [His] sparring looks good. I think he’ll be peaking at the right time. I couldn’t be happier.”
Neither could the UFC, which is pleased with how Weidman has responded to additional media responsibilities. On this day, the UFC’s in-house television production staff and News 12 Long Island were filming the session.UFC 162 marks the first time the Baldwin, Long Island, native will headline a pay-per-view card.
“Chris has handled it well,” White wrote in an email to Metro New York. “It’s certainly been an adjustment for him. He’s skyrocketed to the top of the division and is now facing the greatest fighter of all-time, so all of the big media outlets across the world want to speak with him. But he comes from a good camp led by a guy like Matt Serra, who knows what it’s like to handle the media before big fights.
“He’s a laid back guy. I don’t think the big fights intimidate him. He’s got good people around him and he’s laser-focused on becoming UFC champion. This is the biggest opportunity of his life, so I’m sure he’s got a million things running through his head. But he looks like he’s handling it well.”
Still, there is a decided difference between preparing for the fight and actually stepping inside the cage. Especially against Silva, who has overwhelmed opponents with a well-earned aura of invincibility and athletic genius.
Silva has won 33-of-37 career fights, and has a perfect 16-0 record in the UFC. The 16 wins have Silva tied with Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture for second most in UFC history. Eleven of Silva’s 16 wins have come via knockout, the most in UFC history. His 17 knockdowns is a UFC record and his 67.8 percent striking accuracy is the highest in UFC history.
Perhaps more vital to Silva’s incredible success than his power and striking is the Brazilian’s ability to discourage opponents. In his last fight, Silva decimated Stephan Bonnar in the main event of UFC 153 last October, losing in the first round of their light heavyweight fight via first round technical knockout. But it’s how Bonnar lost that resonates.
Backed against the cage, Silva dropped his hands to the side, an invitation to Bonnar to land strikes. Except whenever Bonnar threw a punch or a kick, Silva swayed to the left or to the right to avoid the strike.It was an unspoken message that was as brash as it was true: You are not good enough to beat me. You are not good enough to share the octagon with me. Moments later, Silva mercifully put an end to the fight with a knee to the midsection followed by flurry of punches that sent Bonnar into retirement.
As one would expect, Weidman and has camp have discussed how to combat Silva’s air of confidence.
“You have to address it,” Longo said. “Right now, Anderson Silva has the Mike Tyson aura going. [Guys are] losing fights before they even got in there. What’s key to me about that is I don’t think Chris is going to do that. We’ve talked about it. Anderson Silva is going to see a totally different fighter than what he’s normally used to seeing. This guy is not crumbling before the fight, and he brings a skill set unlike anybody he’s ever fought before. So that’s going to be the difference.”
The closest anyone has come to beating Silva was Chael Sonnen at UFC 117. Sonnen used his wrestling to keep the majority of their middleweight title fight on the mat. Yet for all that Sonnen accomplished in the fight, he still submitted to a triangle armbar with 1:50 left in the fifth round.
So why should the average fan think Weidman can beat Silva?
“If Anderson [Silva] has had any trouble so far, it’s been with wrestlers,” Longo said. “I think Chris Weidman is Chael Sonnen times 10. Chris Weidman can strike. Chris Weidman can do jiu-jitsu. He can wrestle. I think Chael had the wrestling down. He didn’t really have the striking down as [needed going into a fight] with Anderson Silva. I think if he had better jiu-jitsu, he could have threatened to submit Anderson. If the fight goes to the floor, Chris will be looking for the submission. It’s hard to keep playing defense with a guy like that on [you].”