"I'm really excited and I think he's going to be a good test to where I
stand. I want to be on the top of this sport and these are the type of
guys I need to be able to beat." - Chris Weidman
There is a well-documented negative side to “hype” for a fighter. It creates cynicism and a belief that the excitement for this particular fighter is disingenuous. It also causes additional pressure to be placed on the success of said fighter. Those would all be relevant issues if that fighter was not a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler who qualified for the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship by winning the East Coast trials after only eight months of formal Brazilian jiu-jitsu training, who has an undefeated pro MMA record, including two wins inside the Octagon, and is already the proud owner of a “Submission of the Night” bonus in his second fight in the UFC.
Actually, the hype can’t even compete with the reality of Chris Weidman.
“I am in this 100%,” declares Weidman. “The only reason I got into this sport was to be the champion. I wasn't doing this for any other reason. Where I'm at right now, with the hype behind me, if that wasn't behind me or if I wasn't undefeated, I don't care if I'm undefeated, just as long as I'm on the right streak towards the top. I have put this pressure on myself since day one, so it is nothing new.”
At 27 years old, this Hofstra University alum from “Strong Island” was at the top of every MMA website’s must watch and see list. Weidman was the prospect of prospects coming into his hurried Octagon debut in March at UFC Live against veteran UFC middleweight Alessio Sakara. On less than three weeks’ notice, Weidman went toe-to-toe with Sakara for a grueling and bloody three rounds in which Weidman controlled all the action. It was a true test for Weidman with little prep time - a tough opponent on a three fight win streak, and it was a physically exhausting fight which he won in every aspect.
“It was huge for me,” says Weidman. “It was a great experience. I was in there with a seasoned guy and I knew he was ready for a full fight. I wasn't in the best shape going into that fight for sure. It was pretty much two weeks’ notice, so I was a fat kid two weeks before that. So for me to get in the shape I did and to be able to go three full rounds and get the win even though I wasn't in the best shape makes me feel confident, especially having a full camp to be able to go three rounds at a fast pace. I felt like I went hard in that fight for all three rounds, but I didn't go for some submissions that I usually would have because I wasn't in my usual top quality shape. It was a great experience. He was a tough guy, and to go all three rounds like that was good for me.”
About three months later, Weidman was itching for another fight, and he replaced Court McGee in his bout with Jesse Bongfeldt. This time he had eight weeks’ notice to prepare, which was really the first time in Weidman’s six fight career that he had a dedicated training camp. Most of Weidman’s other fights were on short notice, with just enough time to make sure his cardio was there. Weidman had the opportunity to get better during the full camp and was considering this a statement fight, which was bad luck for Bongfeldt,
“Every fight is a big fight,” tells Weidman. “After the Sakara fight there was a lot of hype about me and where my future is heading. I think every fight is going to be kind of like that, but the fight with Jesse Bongfeldt really felt like people were trying to figure where I'm at. I wanted to show that I belong here in the UFC and that I'm someone who is going to be no joke and that I'm coming up.”
In his second Octagon appearance, Weidman didn’t disappoint, displaying the vaunted wrestling and submission skills everyone expects to see. “It's definitely one of the things I work on - the kimura from side control,” notes Weidman, who attacked Bongfeldt with that move numerous times in the first round, and even though he didn’t secure it, it helped win the fight. “It's one of my go to moves and I tried to set that up for the finish. He did a good job defending, but it ended up working out that I got another submission. As long as I am keeping pressure and attempting submission after submission, even if I don't get it, it is mentally breaking the guy and sooner rather than later I'm going to get the submission.”
The “Submission of the Night” finish came at 4:54 in the first. As the two scrambled to their feet, Weidman drilled Bongfeldt with a knee to the mid-section and followed up with a standing guillotine choke. It was a lethal combo, which did help stamp Weidman’s arrival into the UFC middleweight division as a fighter whose power and submissions can make quick work of anyone.
“When I hit him with the knee, I knew I took the air out of him and my arms were instantly around his neck,” remembers Weidman. “I knew he wasn't going to have much fight because he just took a knee to the stomach pretty hard and probably wasn't expecting me to go so hard with the choke because of the short time. I was pretty confident with it that I would get the finish even with the time that was left.”
In San Jose this Saturday, Weidman will tangle with the returning Ultimate Fighter season eight alum “Filthy” Tom Lawlor for his third trip to the Octagon in less than a year. At 3-2 in the UFC, facing all recognizable opponents, Lawlor will look to employ his own wrestling, submissions and strikes on Weidman. Although it was 11 months ago, Lawlor had his best Octagon appearance to date in his dominance of former number 1 contender Patrick Cote at UFC 121. Lawlor is durable, versatile and will be hungry for a win over a young, but rising, name like Weidman.
“I think he is going to be a great test,” admits Weidman. “I think he is a tough kid and he's going to come forward. I think he has good wrestling, good jiu-jitsu and good striking, so he's well-rounded. I'm really excited and I think he's going to be a good test to where I stand. I want to be on the top of this sport and these are the type of guys I need to be able to beat: tough guys who are well-rounded. It's going to be an exciting fight, a good test for me and I'm going to try to win in a dominant way and get the finish.”
To prepare for this fight, Weidman is training with the dynamic duo from Long Island and TUF season six: Matt Serra and Ray Longo. Both coaches have vibrant personalities and a near unparalleled amount of experience, which they both use to pass on their fighting knowledge to Weidman. They have been with Weidman since the beginning and facilitated his quick rise in MMA by pushing Weidman to go pro immediately after believing in what they saw in him in their gyms. Weidman also trains a couple times a week in Manhattan with Serra’s own jiu-jitsu mentor, the legendary Renzo Gracie.
“They're great coaches, so it makes it easier for me to become a fast learner because they're great teachers,” asserts Weidman. “They're both fun to be around. They're easy going guys. They make light of tough situations if you're having a bad day and they're making you laugh. They make it fun. Having them together in your corner is a perfect combination. I think we match up well as far as them being the coaches and me being the student because as a wrestler I was a very technical wrestler and that's what they're all about - the technique. The way I learned wrestling from technique to technique is how I'm trying to learn jiu-jitsu and the standup. It's not that much of a different type of learning than when it was wrestling.”
At UFC 139, Lawlor will be playing a dangerous game by standing on the tracks with Weidman’s hype-train ready to come through. “Just like any fight, I'm completely ready for a war,” states Weidman, who has higher aspirations than being a prospect; he’s looking to make the middleweight division his own, one fight at a time. “I'm 100% ready for a three round back and forth crazy slugfest, on to the ground then back up again, attempting submissions, and non-stop action. I'm totally prepared for that. And I'm going to be looking for the submissions and looking for the knockouts the whole entire fight. Without a doubt.”