MiddleweightsChris Weidman (14-5) vs. Omari Akhmedov (20-4-1)
ODDS: Weidman (-115), Akhmedov (-105)
It seemed like a given that whoever unseated Anderson Silva as the UFC’s middleweight champion would go onto stardom, but in retrospect, things never quite came together for Weidman. Even though he mostly dominated both fights against Silva, their respective endings never quite made for a clean transfer of power. Weidman’s title win happened while Silva was in the middle of his taunting theatrics, while the rematch infamously ended with “The Spider” breaking his leg. Weidman’s championship reign never gained much momentum, mostly thanks to injuries keeping the Long Islander out of action for long stretches of time. By the time Weidman lost his title to Luke Rockhold after a brutally long beating, it felt like the division was already moving past him, and the “All-American” has struggled to get back in the title picture ever since. At first, Weidman’s troubles were easily attributable to hard luck. He improved around the margins in fights against Yoel Romero and Gegard Mousasi and did quite well, only to have the tide suddenly turn against him on route to two stoppage losses. A win over a surging Kelvin Gastelum seemed to turn things around, but another late defeat to Ronaldo Souza ended that momentum, and Weidman’s loss to Dominick Reyes in 2019 was the most concerning yet. That fight marked Weidman’s move up to light heavyweight, and he never got the chance to get out of the gates. He did a little bit of wrestling against the cage, and as soon as the two separated, Reyes cracked him for a knockout in less than two minutes. That was the end of Weidman’s 205-pound experiment, and he returns to middleweight for his first fight in years that does not have much in the way of divisional stakes. That, in turn, makes this bout against Akhmedov extremely important in terms of where Weidman’s career goes from here.
Akhmedov has been in the UFC for nearly seven years, and a win here would be big as far as finally announcing himself as a contender. The Russian’s campaign got off to a solid start: A one-sided loss to Gunnar Nelson was a bit disappointing, but Akhmedov showed an ability to greatly damage his opponents otherwise, including an injury stoppage of Brian Ebersole based mostly on leg kicks. However, as Akhmedov regularly faced better competition, a pattern emerged. Akhmedov was a killer for one or maybe even two rounds but would give back all of those gains come the third. Sergio Moraes and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos managed to score come-from-behind finishes in the final frame, and Akhmedov eventually chose to ply his trade up at 185 pounds. The hope was that the smaller weight cut would give Akhmedov some more gas in the tank, but thus far, results have been inconclusive. His middleweight debut was more of the same, this time with Marvin Vettori earning a draw rather than a finish with a one-sided third round, and decision victories over Tim Boetsch and Zak Cummings mostly proved that those two fighters were not the type of opponents that could force Akhmedov to fight at a pace. His last fight against Ian Heinisch was finally a promising one, however. Heinisch is not the most offensively potent fighter, but he was at least relentless enough to make Akhmedov consistently have to work for a decision victory. Akhmedov looks to build off those gains here for what would be his biggest victory to date.
There are a lot of ways that Weidman can test Akhmedov. While Akhmedov can be offensively potent, he is not much of a defensive wrestler, so there is a decent chance that Weidman can get his wrestling and underrated submission game going. While Weidman has had his own issues with pace, Akhmedov is just as likely to get tired in a tough grappling match, making that weakness a bit of a wash. Even a year ago, the pick probably would have been Weidman, but the way that the former middleweight champion lost to Reyes was the loss that finally raised all of the red flags. Previously, Weidman had to slow down or there had to be some accumulation of damage to lead to a stoppage loss, but the Reyes fight saw him go down on a punch that did not even stand out as amazingly hard. At this point, the assumption is that Weidman is going to get finished by anyone who can land on him with any sort of power, and Akhmedov certainly throws heat, almost to a fault. The pick is Akhmedov via first-round knockout.
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