This past Saturday night was a big one for MMA’s premier organization, the UFC. The card that was highly anticipated by fans for its surprisingly high amount of depth from top to bottom delivered on all cylinders with exciting, impressive, career altering performances. Titles were defended and (sort of) won, title shots were earned, and careers were revitalized.
In all this beautiful mess, only one fight truly stuck out to me, and it all had to do with the fighter who came out victorious: Chris Weidman. Extending his record to 13-0, Weidman did more than just defend his belt and remain undefeated, he once again found a way to prove people wrong. It is something that he has specialized in. Of everything that makes him great, the most useful tool Weidman has is his ability to fight intelligently. To figure this out, all you have to do is look at his fights with Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort.
Chris Weidman: The Future of MMA
The Silva Fights:
In most major sports, one aspect of an athlete’s game that can only be judged through analysis and not the naked eye is their ability to think circumstances through in the heat of battle. In fighting, that is called fighter IQ. Chris Weidman’s fighter IQ is simply off the charts, and in no fight did he prove it more than he did in his contests with Anderson Silva. One of my favourite false claims is that Weidman only beat Silva the first time due to the former champ getting cocky and clowning around. That ‘clowning around’ that Silva was doing is something he has done many times before in his career, and for good reason. Through ought his tenure in the UFC, Silva gained a reputation for being an unbeatable robot of a fighter. The ‘clowning’ tactics he used in fights against certain individuals were enough to use that reputation to come out on top. Look back to his matchups with Yushin Okami and Forrest Griffin to see how easily they shut down and stopped fighting once Silva started to toy with them. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to ‘clown around’ in the octagon with a professional UFC fighter and come out unscathed, and Silva used this talent effectively. It only took a few minutes for Okami to look downright frightened at the man standing across the octagon from him. You could almost feel the moment where Okami stopped believing he could beat him.
With Weidman, things were a bit different. Instead of shutting down, Weidman kept his composure and stuck to his game plan. This is what makes Chris Weidman one of the most mentally strong fighters in the world. Despite these tactics shutting down some of Anderson Silva’s greatest foes, Weidman was able to ignore them and continue fighting as if they weren’t happening at all. Then he proved just how smart he was when he used Silva’s antics as a means to finish him.
No doubt through studying tape, Weidman caught onto Silva’s movements and therefore put him right where he wanted him to be. After throwing three punches towards Silva’s head (two of which landed but did not seem to phase him) that caused the former champ to cock backwards in his taunting ways, Weidman did something that the naked eye could not catch. He flung his right arm out in what could not really be described as a strike, causing Silva’s head to pop to the other side in order to avoid it. Right as Silva did this, Weidman threw a long left hook, colliding with Silva’s head at the perfect time. This was due to the fact that, because Weidman knew where Silva was going, both his fist and Silva’s head were going to the same place at the same time, just in different directions. The power of this collision was great enough to write history.
Even when you look at the second fight, Weidman clearly put an emphasis on checking leg kicks due to the amount of ease that Silva would land them in the second round of their first fight (he said so himself afterwards). Obviously I’m not trying to say that he started working on them in order to break Silva’s leg, but it was a sign of his ability to take weaknesses out of his game.
Dealing with Adversity:
On Saturday night, Chris Weidman ended up outdoing his ability to deal with adversity since his five round, back and forth battle with Lyoto Machida. After trying to capitalize on Belfort slipping to the mat after Weidman caught his knee, the champ was stunned enough by a kick to the body to leave himself open. I have now watched this fight more times than I can count, and yet I still cannot comprehend how Weidman did not fall, let alone lose consciousness, at some point during Belfort’s flurry of punches. It’s not just because of the volume of punches, though he landed twenty-seven unanswered by my count, most of which were clean.
When diagnosing this sequence, it is important to consider just who was dishing out these punches. That’s Vitor Belfort, as in the man who is known for never letting a fight go on past its expiration date. By that I mean that once Belfort rocks a fighter, it is almost a sure deal that the fight will be over within seconds because he lands so many quick, accurate, and powerful shots to his opponent in a technical enough way that he does not leave himself open to counters. Belfort has always been known for his speed, but the amount of punches he can put on a fighter in such a short time when he sees they are hurt is astounding. Just look at his fights with Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, and Yoshiro Akiyama to see how quickly he can land a barrage of ten plus punches when he smells blood, as none of those were one hit knockouts. And yet somehow, someway, Chris Weidman stood there and did something no other opponent of Belfort has ever done: he took the punches, and then went right back to fighting as if it never happened.
He landed a takedown twenty seconds later and finished the fight two minutes after that. That takes a certain level of composure that I can’t even begin to understand. So what exactly did he prove? Well, for one, Chris Weidman proved once again that he might be the most mentally strong fighter in the world. He also proved that he can take a punch or two or twenty and survive to keep fighting.
Chris Weidman might just be the future of MMA. It will be interesting to see how UFC 187 did in PPV sales due to the strength of the card, but I think Weidman has established himself as a top draw in the company who will only begin to grow in that department. In the three PPV’s that he has headlined, the card has sold a minimum of 545,000 PPV buys, though it is important to note that two of those bouts were with Anderson Silva and the other had Ronda Rousey in the co-main event. However, I truly believe that if he were to fight a little more often, he could take his place in the top three of PPV draws now that the previous three are gone. As a fighter, there is no one more menacingly intelligent in the cage yet so talented in all aspects of the game. His wrestling and submission skills are hard to come by and he has stood with both Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida and come out the winner both times. He has the ability to finish the fight from anywhere, in any manner. I really think we are witnessing something truly special here with Chris Weidman, and the whole world should be watching.