Well-spoken Weidman slowly climbing UFC ranks
Lyoto Machida (blue gloves) lands a blow to Chris Weidman during a middleweight title fight at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 5, 2014. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)
Chris Weidman could be one of the UFC’s biggest stars. In any other sport, he’d be the poster boy.
Well-spoken, polite and with boy-next-door looks, the clean-cut Weidman sits No. 3 in the organization’s pound-for-pound rankings and boasts an 8-0 UFC record heading into his title defence against Vitor Belfort on Saturday night at UFC 187.
Oh, and he twice knocked off the seemingly-invincible Anderson Silva, the guy who happens to be the consensus greatest-of-all-time.
And yet, Weidman’s just not quite there yet.
Injuries have played their part, as the 30-year-old New Yorker’s only fought three times since July of 2012. He’s also not the Conor McGregor type, so his tendency to speak honestly and candidly when dealing with reporters doesn’t generate the headlines that the brash Irishman’s incessant trash talk does.
The lack of attention for the champion of the middleweight division -- debatably the UFC’s signature weight class -- doesn’t seem to bother Weidman necessarily.
But he’s definitely aware of it. And he’d like to start the process of changing it, starting with Belfort this weekend.
“It’s a chance to remind people, don’t forget about me,” Weidman said. “Obviously, I want to fight as many times as I can. So me not being able to fight (due to injuries), you know, is not ideal. I want to keep fighting and keep building that legacy, so the injuries definitely slowed it down, but anytime you’ve got setbacks you’ve got to make the most of them.”
Given their history, it’s almost shocking that Weidman and Belfort finally will be facing off. They’ve been scheduled to fight three times in the past year or so, but injuries to Weidman and Belfort’s difficulties coming off the controversial testosterone replacement therapy that was banned last year kept delaying things.
Having beat Silva twice and Lyoto Machida last year, Weidman’s got the chance to take down a third Brazilian MMA legend with a win over Belfort, a former light-heavyweight champion who is married to a popular talk show host and is an absolute superstar in South America.
Even as the bout got delayed again and again, it was a challenge Weidman was desperate to take.
“I want to fight the best guys there are,” Weidman said. “I want to fight people that think they can beat me and he’s a guy who thinks he can beat me. He’s a legend in the sport and he’s fought everybody, so I’m pumped to fight him.”
Will a win over Belfort finally push him into the upper echelons of UFC stardom with the likes of Ronda Rousey, Cain Velasquez and Jon Jones (if and when his legal troubles go away)? Probably not -- it’s going to take an extended spell of good health and a couple more impressive wins before that happens.
With Weidman out of the octagon for 10 months, the middleweight division’s seen an injection of new high-end blood.
Guys like Luke Rockhold and Jacare Souza are waiting in the wings for Weidman should he get past Belfort, and that’s ideal for a guy who openly admits he’s got legacy building on his mind.
“It’s going to be a huge relief just to win this fight and get Belfort out of the way, I’ve been thinking about him for way too long,” Weidman said. “Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza … these are great guys with a lot of talent and I’m prepared to fight them next.
“I want as much challenge as possible. That’s why I wanted to fight Anderson Silva when no one else wanted to. It’s why I’m squaring up Jon Jones. I want to fight the best there are.”
‘I’M COOL, I’M AT PEACE’
Vitor Belfort knew the questions were coming, so he wasn’t going to get upset about them.
Yes, he was one of the UFC’s highest-profile users of testosterone replacement therapy, the controversial program that the Nevada State Athletic Commission banned last year.
At the time, Belfort had a title shot lined up against Chris Weidman but was forced to withdraw in order to deal with the repercussions of going off his medically-cleared program.
On Saturday, he’ll take on Weidman in the co-main event at UFC 187 without the boost that comes from the TRT program, and he was prepared for the questions that would come along with the long-delayed fight.
That didn’t mean he was going to answer them, though.
“It’s history, I’m cool, I’m at peace,” Belfort said. “Whatever you guys (the media) want to talk about, that’s what I’m here for. That’s your duty as an athlete, I don’t get to choose what you ask me, but you cannot choose what I answer?”
So does it bother him that so many people believe his recent three-fight win streak is entirely the result of his TRT program? That opinion does, after all, undermine his accomplishments.
“I don’t have nothing to say,” Belfort said. “I am what I am … What you think is what you think and what you think may not be the reality, and that’s the problem with people.”
Not exactly a firm answer, but that’s understandable given that he’s got the chance to shut the critics up by beating Weidman on Saturday night.
After all, none of the TRT questions will carry much weight if he goes out and beats the champion without the benefit of the program.
AROUND THE OCTAGON
Friendliest staredowns ever? That’s what Rockhold said as he watched UFC 187 fighters on Thursday afternoon step on stage and “glare” at one another. There’s no way of quantifying it, but Rockhold might be right. Travis Browne and Andrei Arlovski embraced one another with a big bear hug, and all the other fighters were warm and cordial to one another … The Brazilian media sure loves Belfort. No less than 20 Brazilian reporters crowded around the title challenger for the entire one-hour media session, the second day in a row that happened … The turning point of Anthony Johnson’s win in January over Alexander Gustafsson came when the Swede tried to nail Johnson with a kick after the fight was temporarily stopped due to an eye-poke. Johnson knew it was coming because Gus’s corner was screaming for him to go for the kick. “They speak Swedish, why were they yelling at him to kick me in English?” Johnson asked.