Chris Weidman has compiled a 5-0 mark since arriving in the UFC. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
On Oct. 14, 2006, Anderson Silva captured the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight crown with a vicious first-round knockout against Rich Franklin. Two years, four months and six days later, Chris Weidman made his professional mixed martial arts debut. It seems their paths have been destined to cross ever since.
The iconic 38-year-old Brazilian champion and the undefeated 28-year-old upstart will meet on July 6 in Las Vegas, as Silva defends his middleweight title against Weidman in the UFC 162 main event. The challenger has had a theoretical date circled for quite some time.
“When I started MMA about four years ago, he was the champion at 185, and when I made the decision to go to 185, I had to believe I could beat the champion of the world or there was no reason for me to do this,” Weidman said during a UFC Fight Club Q&A on April 26. “From the get-go, no matter who I was fighting coming up, I wasn’t only training to beat those guys I was up against; I was training already at that point to beat Anderson Silva and to be the best in the world. Now that I’ve finally got the opportunity to get there, I’m not going to let the opportunity slip through my fingers.”
Weidman has opened his MMA career with a perfect 9-0 record, including UFC wins over Alessio Sakara, Jesse Bongfeldt, Tom Lawlor, Demian Maia and Mark Munoz. Still, it took a series of fortunate events to ensure the “All-American” was paired with Silva on a UFC marquee so soon. It began with his systematic annihilation of Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4 in July, followed by his withdrawal from a scheduled UFC 155 bout with Tim Boetsch and subsequent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. While Weidman was on the shelf, Alan Belcher and Michael Bisping were victimized in their respective matchups with Yushin Okami and Vitor Belfort. Finally, former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, rumored to be considering a move to 185 pounds, fell flat in a unanimous decision defeat to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156.
Suddenly, a fully recovered Weidman was the last man standing.
“It really is crazy how it ended up working out,” he said. “Obviously, I’m very grateful for the opportunity. When I got injured -- and I was lined up to fight Boetsch -- I felt something good was going to come from this. Regardless of not getting the Boetsch fight, I felt like I was going to be fighting a bigger name, maybe not Anderson at that point, because you had a couple other guys, like Bisping [and] Belcher that were ahead of me.
Stylistically, many view Weidman as the prototypical foil for Silva. A four-time collegiate wrestling All-American at Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, Weidman defeated “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 light heavyweight winner Ryan Bader as a senior and tried out for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, only to have a rib injury interrupt those plans.
Groomed under former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra and revered striking guru Ray Longo, Weidman exhibited a startling aptitude for submissions early in his development. Inside three months, he won his first Grappler’s Quest tournament -- his weight class and the absolute division -- and submitted all 13 of his opponents in doing so. Moreover, Weidman qualified for the prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships in 2009 after just eight months of formal training and pushed seven-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Andre Galvao to the limit in a memorable match in Barcelona, Spain. Though he lost on points, he emerged as one of the tournament’s breakout stars and has only gained momentum since.
“I really feel like, on paper, I’m a nightmare matchup for Anderson,” Weidman said. “On paper, you can’t deny it. I’m definitely a better wrestler. I definitely believe I’ve proven I have better jiu-jitsu. I think I have the cardio, the athleticism. I think there are a lot of things siding with me in this fight.”
Silva was reportedly hesitant to accept a bout with the Baldwin, N.Y., native, but Weidman, at least publicly, did not view the Brazilian’s posturing as a slight.
“I’ve got enough incentive from my personal pride and just visualizing this moment for four years,” he said. “I think I am a nightmare matchup for him. If he had his way, he wouldn’t be fighting me, but the UFC, Lorenzo and Dana wanted to make the fight happen.”
Like so many others before him, from Franklin and Belfort to Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt and Chael Sonnen, Weidman must grapple with the mystique that comes with battling the most dominant figure in UFC history. Silva has won all 16 of his fights inside the Octagon, 14 of them finishes.
“My biggest concern right now is Anderson and getting that belt,” Weidman said. “I think the best thing Anderson does is mentally destroy people before they ever get in the cage with him. Once you get in the cage with him, he does a great job of making you feel like, ‘You don’t belong in this cage with me. You’re terrible. I’m the man. You’re going to find a way out of this fight.’ The thing is I’m very confident. I know my skills.”
Sonnen came closest to dethroning “The Spider” at UFC 117 in August 2010. Utilizing relentless takedowns, stout ground-and-pound, fearless standup and a suffocating top game, the outspoken Oregonian took the first four rounds from Silva before falling asleep inside the champion’s guard and succumbing to a fifth-round triangle choke. Weidman took notes.
“I’ve seen what Chael has done to him, and I’ve seen his weaknesses,” he said. “I think I can expose them again and look for a finish. You just have to be confident. You can say anything you want before the fight, but it’s all about when you touch those gloves, that you still have the confidence, and I’m going to make sure I do. It’s all mental.”
Having the support and knowledge of a former UFC champion like Serra in his corner has had a profound impact on Weidman.
“He’s helped me a lot through my career, just getting used to how to deal with the fans and how to handle the pressure and different things like that,” he said. “Just being in the room with the guy ... he doesn’t have to say a word. When you’re around guys who’ve been where you want to go, it just gives you a confidence to be able to achieve that.”
Weidman believes his time has arrived.
“I’ve been in a rush since day one,” he said. “I know this is going to be a short career. I want to be a young champion. I’ve got nothing against Anderson. I think he’s the greatest of all-time, but I’m going to go in there and try to take his head off and put him on his back and look to submit him. Nothing personal.”