What happens when a current champ, a former champ, an Olympian and the “Rumble” step inside the Octagon?
The answer: UFC 187, two title fights and, of course, fireworks.
On May 23rd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, gold is up for grabs in the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions as the co-main and main event of the outrageously stacked UFC 187 card.
Sure, there will be thrilling matchups like Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski and chilling matchups like Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi; but today, we’re talking about the belt battles, as former UFC light heavyweight champ Vitor Belfort collides with current UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, and former two-time Olympic freestyle wrestler Daniel Cormier goes to war with Anthony “Rumble” Johnson for the vacant UFC light heavyweight strap.
Just ten days away from this highly anticipated event, these four elite UFC fighters took time out of their busy training schedules to get on the phone and answer questions from the ever-inquisitive MMA media. The end result was a lot of healthy respect tossed around from one upcoming opponent to the other, and a prediction from Belfort that his scrap will be one for the history books.
After a year and a half on the sidelines, “The Phenom” is finally returning to the Octagon and it’s finally in a title fight. Back in 2013, Belfort did the unthinkable by scoring three Knockout of the Night wins over Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson. Now, with a win over Weidman, Belfort is poised to be only the third fighter in UFC history to earn belts in two different weight divisions.
“I know this is going to be the best middleweight championship fight in UFC history and I’m looking forward to it,” Belfort said. Although, Belfort has been out-of-competition for a while for a myriad of reasons, The Phenom said he’s been very active at the Blackzilians’ gym preparing for the task ahead.
“I was focused on what I can do and that is getting better at my craft and evolving every day.”
Given the task of taming the old lion is the undefeated and current UFC middleweight champion “The All-American” Weidman. It has not been an easy road for Weidman to get to his third defense, as the New Yorker has been battling injuries instead of title challengers as of late. Nearly a year prior, Weidman had a knockdown, drag-out fight with Lyoto Machida at UFC 175, which Weidman took by unanimous decision, earning a Fight of the Night bonus along the way. Like his other two title defenses, Weidman is aiming to keep his perfect pro record by defeating a Brazilian knockout artist who once wore UFC gold.
“You get hurt, you become stronger from it,” Weidman said. “It healed fast. I’ve had no issues in training camp and I’m not worried about any ring rust. I’m preparing for the best Vitor we’ve ever seen. I thought it was inevitable; we had to face each other. I have to go out there and win. I have to outsmart him. When he thinks I’m going to do something, I have to do the opposite.”
In the main event, #1 ranked UFC light heavyweight Johnson will be fighting for the division’s much-coveted, glittery gold belt. That much is the same as it ever was. At this point, everyone knows that the former champ Jon Jones was removed from the card and stripped of the title. Nevertheless, the man who felled and finished Alexander Gustafsson in the first round this past January is still fighting for the UFC light heavyweight belt. Since exiting the UFC back in 2012, Johnson has redefined himself as an uncompromising force with six straight wins across other promotions and three dominant wins inside the Octagon to earn his shot at the top.
“Everyone wants to say they competed against the best and competed against the champ,” Johnson said. “The part that is not disappointing is I get to fight another elite athlete, a guy who I think is a tougher fight for me than Jon Jones. DC is a grinder. You have two guys who are hungry for the belt and that’s what it’s about. I assume it’s going to be an all-out war. Daniel has power, speed, good technique, and his wrestling is top notch. I think he’s going to be a more difficult fight, but that’s what I look forward to. People are not showing the respect that Daniel and I deserve. We’re athletes, we’re the top of the food chain. In my eyes, in my heart - whoever wins the title, we are the champion of the weight class. We are the best.”
After going toe-to-toe with Jones for 25 minutes in one of the biggest championship clashes in UFC history, Cormier is fired up to get right back into the Octagon with the gold on the line again. The circumstances for this title shot could not be any more different from the last. Cormier spent months upon months arguing with Jones on every major sports news outlet in the lead-up to their meeting, whereas Cormier steps into this belt bout on relatively short notice with no animosity toward Johnson. For Cormier, it’s about learning from what happened against Jones at UFC 182 and using it as his advantage against Johnson at UFC 187.
“Looking back, I can tell how emotionally attached I was to that fight,” Cormier said. “I like Rumble. I’m excited to be getting the title shot so fast. There are some things I did wrong in the fight and in the training camp that I think I corrected. I didn’t have my best fight on January 3rd and I plan on having my best fight May 23rd.”
At UFC 187, four warriors will battle for two belts, which should make for one exciting night inside the Octagon.