A funny thing happened while Chris Weidman was in Albany, N.Y., lobbying for the legalization of MMA in his home Empire State -- he landed that long-coveted title fight against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 161 on July 6 in Las Vegas.
Now he can exhale. At least for a few minutes.
“Everybody’s excited for me, and I’m getting blown up like crazy,” the Long Island native told ESPN.com. “But it’s time to get organized and time to get working. I didn’t get this title shot just to be happy with that. I got this title shot to win and win in spectacular fashion, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Good news converged all over Weidman this week. For one, he was told his shoulder, which he’d injured while training in Arizona a few months back in preparation for a fight with Tim Boetsch, was coming along ahead of schedule. Now he’s got the green light to train.
“I just spoke to my doctor on Tuesday, and he just said he was very happy at where my shoulder was at, and that he was surprised at how fast it healed,” he says. “So I’m back into the thick of things, and honestly, my shoulder feels 100 percent right now. It feels great.”
Better yet, Weidman’s path to Silva -- which has had nearly as many obstacles as the UFC’s ongoing efforts to get MMA sanctioned in New York -- finally opened up. And what an ordeal that’s been.
Back in July, after both Silva and Weidman had come off of impressive victories over Chael Sonnen and Mark Munoz, respectively, Silva was reluctant to take the fight at that time. Sensing this, Weidman agreed to fight Boetsch at UFC 155. Silva then took a makeshift fight against Stephan Bonnar to rescue UFC 153, and shortly thereafter Weidman got injured and was scrapped from his card. Meanwhile, as Weidman healed, fresh contenders like Michael Bisping lost.
Which brings everything right back to the undefeated Weidman (9-0, 5-0 in the UFC), who took a scenic detour only to end up essentially back where to he started. The difference is he's coming off a prolonged layoff after surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff -- not to mention fix a separated AC joint in his right shoulder.
It will be a year between fights, but Weidman is finally in the challenger’s seat.
Now it’s a question of whether the layoff and recovery will leave him that much more susceptible heading into a fight with the greatest mixed martial artist ever. Las Vegas oddsmakers are already lengthening his odds. And given the circumstances, a lot of people in the media and on Twitter think that Silva’s catching Weidman at the exact right time. Weidman has heard it.
“Listen, you come off a layoff people are going to think you’re rusty and all that, but I’ve been in the gym every single day,” he says. “I haven’t taken time off. I’ve had more than a year off before, coming off of hand surgery, and my first fight back I fought Urijah Hall. He’s doing good on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ show right now, and I ended up getting a first round knockout over him.
“So I’ve had that scenario before, and I won’t let ring rust or coming off an injury like that stop me. I think that’s more of a mental thing, anyway. I’m pretty good mentally. I have a psychology degree, and I think that helps me just keep my mentally strong -- and making sure I don’t beat myself.
"That’s ultimately who you’re really fighting against, is yourself. I feel like if I don’t beat myself, I’m winning the fight.”
It doesn’t hurt that he was an All-American wrestler at Hofstra while earning his psychology degree, or that Silva’s known vulnerability is in the wrestling department. Weidman knows these things, and he’ll undoubtedly use whatever edges he can (psychological and otherwise) leading up to UFC 161.
But right now, Weidman talks like a man who is thrilled with so many happy convergences. He’s healthy, he’s in a title fight, and MMA in his home state of New York is close to becoming a reality. Not a bad week.
“I feel like this is just the beginning of my career, and it’s a great opportunity to fight who I think is the greatest of all time,” he says. “My main goal right now is to be UFC champion -- but my ultimate goal is to be considered one of the greatest of all time.”
The old cliché “to be the best, you must beat the best” only works if you get the chance to beat the best. This July, there's a very happy New Yorker who's getting his chance.