At UFC 162, just ten fights into his professional career, Chris Weidman will face Anderson Silva for his middleweight crown, a fighter who is universally recognized as the greatest in the sport. Due to middleweight contenders falling by the wayside over the last year, Weidman basically got the title shot by default.
Weidman and his progress, for a while now, have carried a sense of excitement similar to that surrounding the early career of Cain Velasquez. Before Velasquez became heavyweight champion or even a heavyweight contender, we would always hear his name mentioned by ‘people in the know’ who would wax lyrical about an up and coming beast who would be champion someday. The same thing has been happening with Weidman. It seems like the majority of the MMA community believe he is destined to become champion.
Ever since Silva became a seemingly unbeatable demi-god, it feels like his next opponent is always the one who has the tools to beat him. The marketing machine goes into overdrive and we hear all about how this challenger could be the one to finally dethrone the champion, Joe Rogan uses his “if I had to design a fighter in a lab to beat Anderson he would have… (Describes the opponents skill set)” bit and some of us fall for it. Then inevitably, Silva brings a ballet of violence to the octagon and we feel foolish for ever doubting him. So we have danced this dance before.
The difference this time is the size of the hype train. Even though all of Silva’s opponents are sold to us as having the best chance yet to beat him and possessing the ideal tools to do so, this fight is different. Never have so many fans, fighters and writers picked against the champion. So why is this the case? What makes Weidman different from the rest?
Well the fights with Chael Sonnen showed that Silva’s Achilles heel, so to speak, is his wrestling. His two fights with Sonnen were the only in his UFC career where his opponent was able to have continued success. Sonnen proved that Silva can be taken down and kept there. Now considering that Weidman is also a big powerful wrestler, it’s easy to see why many believe he is a bad match up for Silva.
Weidman, like Sonnen, has impressive wrestling credentials; he is a two-time NCAA Division I All-American and had victories over current light heavyweight contenders Phil Davis and Ryan Bader. However, the key difference between the two, and perhaps the reason Weidman is so heavily backed, is that he has much more of a propensity to finish the fight once it hits the ground.
Along with his accomplished wrestling, he is also somewhat of a jiu-jitsu prodigy. He has taken to the discipline phenomenally quickly. In 2009, after only eight months of training he qualified for and competed at ADCC, known as the Super Bowl of grappling. He lost in the second round to BJJ superstar Andre Galvao, but gained a lot of praise for his performance against the two-time ADCC champion. He is now a brown belt under former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra.
Unlike Sonnen, who uses his wrestling to maintain a dominant position once the contest hits the ground, Weidman utilizes his well-rounded grappling skills as a tool to finish the fight. Once he is on top of his opponent, he will constantly be on the offensive looking for a way to finish, usually searching for chokes.
Weidman’s striking, despite not advancing as quickly as his BJJ, is competent. Whilst standing and trading with a master like Silva will obviously not be a part of his gameplan, Weidman will need to use his striking to exchange with Silva and punch his way in to get close enough to complete a takedown. Talented grapplers like Demian Maia and Thales Leites fought Silva and simply refused to strike, instead they limited their attacks to hopeful lunges towards Silva’s legs. As we know, that didn’t work out to well for them. Weidman’s striking, whilst nowhere near Silva’s level, is more capable than that possessed by Sonnen, Maia and Leites so there will be no need for desperate lunges, he should at least occasionally be able to work his way in to secure a takedown.
Because Silva has never lost in the UFC, we can only examine the fights in which he was least impressive. Top of that list would be his first fight with Sonnen. Sonnen managed to consistently get the fight to the ground and control Silva there for the majority of the fight.
Well Weidman is essentially a better version of Sonnen, his game has more dimensions to it. He has the wrestling pedigree of Sonnen as well as the added layers of potent BJJ and more competent striking. He is also younger and more athletic. So if Sonnen and his skill set can have that level of success against the middleweight champion, logic would suggest that a Weidman victory on Saturday night is certainly feasible. One thing is for certain, it will certainly be much more difficult for Silva to submit Weidman off his back.
In part II, coming in a couple of days, I will look at the reasons why Chris Weidman may not be the man to dethrone the king.