"This is a must win, must dominate, fight for me in my eyes, and I won’t be happy unless that’s the way it goes." - Chris Weidman
If you were impressed with Chris Weidman’s defeat of Alessio Sakara in March, which came after just four pro fights and two and a half weeks’ notice, he’s got news for you: you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Because not only did the Long Island, New York native fight a veteran of nearly 30 pro fights without a full training camp, he did it with a fractured rib. Makes the shutout three round decision even more impressive, doesn’t it?
But what did you expect from a 26-year old that has already been touted as the middleweight division’s next big thing from the time he put his wrestling singlet away and entered Ray Longo’s gym to begin his MMA career in 2009. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any doubts after he visited the doctor, found out about his injury, and then got offered the biggest fight of his career.
“There were definitely some questions right in the beginning when I got offered the fight,” said Weidman, 5-0. “I had just got diagnosed with a fractured rib, and on top of that, two days before, I started eating like crap and saying I wanted to take some time off. So I was heavy, I felt like I was out of shape, and that went along with the injury itself. But as the training camp went on, I started feeling more and more confident…”
He stops and laughs.
“It was two and a half weeks, so it wasn’t really a training camp. So in the back of my mind there were a lot of question marks. I didn’t get to wrestle, I didn’t get to spar, and I didn’t get to do jiu-jitsu or anything live. I could only drill very light so I wouldn’t hurt my rib, and I didn’t know how my cardio was gonna feel. I just went in there and tried to be as confident as I possibly could, and I believed in myself and it worked out.”
It couldn’t have gone any better, but with all the hype that came with his debut (well, as much hype as you can generate in less than three weeks), wasn’t there the risk of perhaps winning but not doing so in impressive style, leading the always ready to pounce fanbase and media to judge the debut a bust?
“I wondered what people were gonna think,” he admits. “I didn’t want to let people down and let myself down. I didn’t imagine my first fight in the UFC to be like this as far as getting the fight and preparing the way I did. I totally expected that I would get my fights in in other organizations, then I get a fight, I have a full training camp, and I’m fighting.”
But facing an offer he couldn’t refuse, and with the endorsement of Longo and his other MMA mentor, former welterweight champ Matt Serra, Weidman rolled the dice, and won. And the way he sees it, getting the fight on short notice without having two months to stress over his UFC debut may have been a blessing in disguise.
“I tried to take every little thing and use it as an advantage,” he said. “People were asking me how it felt to be in the UFC, and I wasn’t thinking about that. All that mattered was Alessio Sakara. I had to win that fight. Even now I still haven’t got time to sit back. Again, this is a must win, must dominate, fight for me in my eyes, and I won’t be happy unless that’s the way it goes.”
His next fight, against Canada’s Jesse Bongfeldt, is this Saturday on the UFC 131 card in Vancouver. Weidman didn’t take an extended vacation after his first Octagon win. In fact, as soon as his pre-Sakara rib injury healed, he let the UFC know that he was ready to get back to work, the sooner the better.
“I knew I needed a week or two to heal up my ribs completely and then as soon as I felt my rib was a hundred percent, I wanted to get back in there,” he said. “You only live once, so I wanted to get right back in there. I didn’t want to waste any time.”
He hasn’t, and in Bongfeldt he will be facing a hungry fighter who is looking to get in the UFC win column after a draw against Rafael Natal last December.
“He’s a pretty experienced guy, he’s been fighting for 10 years, and he’s definitely a tough guy who you can never count out,” said Weidman of his opponent. “He’s aggressive and it’s gonna be a tough fight, but I’m just gonna show that I’m tougher.”
To prove it, he’ll be bringing the wrestling game that earned him two-time recognition as a Division I All-American at Hofstra University. These days, having that kind of background is worth more than gold, as we’ve seen on numerous occasions that if you can’t stop a takedown in the Octagon, you’re gonna be in for some long and painful nights.
“I love that I came from a wrestling base, not only for the fact that I get to dictate where the fight is, but also for the mental preparation that it gave me in any type of competition I’ve done over the years,” said Weidman. “It definitely gives me confidence, but nothing’s ever as easy as it might look. Even if you get a takedown, it’s far from over, and you can’t relax.”
And Weidman’s not relaxing, in or out of the Octagon. It’s almost as if he’s fighting like he’s double-parked, willing to step up at a moment’s notice to take on all comers, a hundred percent or not. It’s a fighter’s mentality though, and Weidman - while admitting that he’s not near to where he wants to be yet – embraces it.
“I would fight anybody in a heartbeat,” he said. “But I’m also willing to do whatever the UFC wants to do as far as bringing me up and having me get experience; that’s fine too. I do still have a lot to learn and have a need for improvement in every part of my game, so I’m not in a terrible rush, but I do feel like I’m ready.”