If Weidman seems willing to roll the dice this week -- risking at least some of his stock as one of the middleweight division’s hottest prospects by agreeing to fight Demian Maia eight days from now at UFC on Fox 2 -- it may be because he’s already been so successful as a substitute.
Including the Maia bout, the two-time All-American wrestler from Hofstra University has been a replacement in three of his first four UFC appearances and to date, it’s all come up aces.
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Weidman out-pointed Alessio Sakara on just two weeks’ warning in his promotional debut last March, then choked Jesse Bongfeldt at UFC 131 after taking the fight two months out when Court McGee fell to a knee injury. With a full camp under his belt for Tom Lawlor, Weidman took just 2:07 to render him unconscious via slick D’arce choke at UFC 139, pretty thoroughly establishing himself as a handful for anyone in the weight class, and under any time frame.
Now comes Maia, ESPN.com’s No. 7-ranked middleweight and submission specialist who Weidman agreed to fight live on network television next weekend after Michael Bisping unexpectedly got called up to the co-main event.
If it’s a risk, it’s clearly one the undefeated Serra-Longo fight team product thinks is worth it, and maybe he's right.
After all, Weidman is carrying on a fairly grand tradition of last minute replacements in the Octagon. It’s been a good strategic move in the past, considering the organization’s preference for fighters with an “anytime, anywhere” mentality and its photographic memory of the people who have done it favors (and, conversely, the people who have not).
On call: Chris Weidman has been in the last-minute replacement position before.
A win over Maia would obviously put Weidman’s career on an even faster track, pushing him into contention for a top 10 ranking and future consideration for a fight against a contender on the order of Rousimar Palhares, Yushin Okami (who fights Tim Boetsch next month) or even Mark Munoz, when he returns from his arm injury.
Even if he comes up short, you have to believe Weidman has a fair amount of political capital built up after being so willing to answer the phone whenever UFC matchmakers call. At least within the company -- and barring a disaster -- he’s likely to retain much of his stature.
Then again, the notion that Weidman is in a no-lose situation here isn’t altogether accurate, either. Though he opened as the betting favorite once the card was reshuffled, Maia represents a significant step up in competition for him. With that comes great opportunity, but also clear risks.
Considering the circumstances, most of us will be willing to grant Weidman at least a partial pass if he loses to Maia, but some damage will still be done. As a guy whose coaches trumpeted him as a future champion before he even arrived in the Octagon, any defeat is going to have a cooling effect.
After winning three those aforementioned fights in increasingly impressive fashion during his first year with the UFC, Weidman should be a leading candidate for a breakout fighter of the year award in 2012 and that view of him would likely be dashed if he doesn’t keep winning.
Gone too would be his unblemished record. He’d need a solid performance the next time out to maintain his momentum as an up-and-comer, let alone his status as a guy nobody in the middleweight division wants to fight on short notice.