UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman sat quietly as question after question was directed toward UFC 194 headliners Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor during the final press conference for Saturday’s event at MGM Grand.
He didn’t seem to mind, but that wasn’t necessarily the case for the top contender for the 185-pound title, who looked annoyed at seemingly being overlooked before the biggest fight of his career.
Yet Luke Rockhold, 31, a former Strikeforce middleweight champion, feels that this has almost been par for the course throughout his career in the Octagon, one that has seen him win four of five fights, finishing each victory by knockout or submission.
“It feels good to be credited for your work and what you do and what you pride yourself on,” he said. “So for your accomplishments to be beaten down and made less than what they really were, yes, I came in with a point to prove when I came here. And I'm here to make another point.
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“People still look at my biggest win as my last win over Lyoto Machida. They don't realize that my fights with Tim Kennedy and ‘Jacare’ (Souza), those guys were much tougher for me than anything else I've faced thus far. I got nothing for that. So it’s one more point to prove, one more statement to make. It's gonna come Saturday night.”
Long Island, New York’s Weidman, 31, has grown into his role as the king of the middleweights, with title fight victories over Anderson Silva (twice), Machida and Vitor Belfort putting him into the upper tier when it comes to media requests and pulls on his time. But with the rivalry between McGregor and Aldo grabbing most of the headlines, Weidman has been happy to take a slight step back.
“I'm definitely comfortable with where everything's been,” he said. “Conor and Jose, this is a card that people been looking forward to for almost a year now. There's so much hype behind it, and I'm completely comfortable with just worrying about retaining my belt.”
Though his face betrayed his words, Rockhold said he wasn’t miffed at waiting nearly half an hour before he was asked a question at the press conference, choosing instead to talk of his focus leading up to the biggest fight of his career.
“I don't feel agitated whatsoever,” Santa Cruz, California’s Rockhold said. “I feel ready, I feel this is my time. I feel I've separated myself technically, mentally, physically, and these guys have got a lot of catch-up work to do. I'm ready to fight. I feel like I'm the better man. But I've got to thank the man (McGregor), he promoted the card. It takes a lot of work off my back. I get to focus on training and being as focused and technical as possible. I'm ready to fight, I'm ready to go take this belt.”
It’s hard to remember a card with such a great 1-2 punch at the top of the bill. With Aldo-McGregor and Weidman-Rockhold, it’s not just the best fight in each division being delivered, but possibly the two best fights that could be made at the moment in the entire sport. Aldo and McGregor have most certainly made this a fight; Weidman and Rockhold have jawed at each other in a buddy-buddy manner, but as Saturday night approaches, there is some clear tension between the two. And no one is complaining about that.
“There's always been mutual respect between me and Chris, but this is the world title,” Rockhold said. “This is about taking another man's food off his plate. He's got kids to feed and I've got a statement to make. This is everything we've worked for our whole lives. You're in the gym, torturing yourself, day after day, you have to pick yourself up, and you know there's another man trying to take this from you. Obviously, tensions build. We're the best two middleweights in the world and you guys are in for a show.”
How that show ends has been the source of debate among fans and pundits for months. Not surprisingly, the champion and challenger have different views of the end result.
“His biggest weakness isn't something physical,” Weidman said. “I think it's in his head, I think it's his ego. And that's what I'm coming for. I'm just gonna give him some reality, I'm gonna throw him around the ring. It's gonna be a fun night.”
“We both will hit adversity in this fight,” Rockhold countered. “I know how to flow with it, I know how to work with it. Chris is a control freak. When he doesn't have control, he tenses up and it forces him into a different fight. I'm gonna stay composed, I'm gonna stay relaxed, I'm gonna make the adjustments and make him pay. I'm gonna take the belt home.”