On July 11, 2012, Chris Weidman defeated top middleweight contender Mark Munoz without so much as absorbing a single significant strike in six and a half minutes of fight time. It was a headlining spot, and he made the most of it. The “Strong Island” native slipped a punch and landed a ridiculous elbow in the second round, and won via TKO seconds later.
And that’s how you make a statement.
That same night, with a perfect 5-0 record in the UFC (9-0 overall), he called out the champion, Anderson Silva, who four days earlier defeated Chael Sonnen with a TKO of his own.
“I want Anderson Silva,” Weidman said, in the most polite callout in the history of callouts. “Every time I’ve had a full training camp, I’ve gotten a finish. Give me a full training camp, and I’d love a shot at the man, Anderson Silva. I really think I could do pretty good. So give me a shot, please.”
Just 239 days later, Silva-Weidman has finally been made. Weidman will get a full training camp, and so will Silva. The clash of styles and experience is on. And after all that time, and through all that haze and speculation, the question becomes: What took so long to make this fight?
It’s complicated. Depending on whom you listen to, it was either because Weidman was too green, too threatening, too unknown, too audacious, or too ... eh. It was because of Weidman’s shoulder injury, and that little Stephan Bonnar thing that Silva handled in October. It was Silva’s contract being up. It was because Silva wanted Georges St-Pierre (unrequited), and then wanted Cung Le (fun fantasy), and then wanted Luke Rockhold (posturing?).
Officially, Silva’s camp said Weidman was too low profile. They wanted big fights, with big-name opponents and equal-sized pay-per-view dollars. Unofficially, Weidman’s camp thought that excuse looked like timidity. Weidman, with his All-American wrestling pedigree from his days at Hofstra University, looked like a nightmare matchup for Silva. In seven rounds of Sonnen-Silva, Sonnen won five by wrestling before making critical errors.
Weidman, at 28 years old, is a fluid submission grappler with better stand-up skills than Sonnen. He’s not likely to try a spinning backfist against Silva. There’s been a lot of optimism at the Ray Longo-Matt Serra Fight Team that a title could soon return to Long Island, if the fight would only be made.
Two-thirds of a year later, the UFC made the right call by booking it. In that time, Weidman’s intrigue has become a lot of fans' intrigue. And given his skill set, he does present interesting challenges to Silva. He beat Munoz, who at the time was a top contender. He beat Demian Maia before that, who’d had a title shot in 2010. Those are fine credentials.
But really, it's all about simple deduction -- there’s nobody else at 185 pounds who deserves it more.
Le was a Silva pipe dream. Hector Lombard hasn’t panned out. Tim Boetsch got done in by Costas Philippou (Weidman's teammate who replaced him on the UFC 155 card after a shoulder injury forced Weidman out of the event). It’s too soon for a Silva-Vitor Belfort rematch. Rockhold was willing, but his merit (and star power) didn’t trump Weidman's. Yushin Okami? No way -- not again. Michael Bisping, who was supposed to get the shot, lost in the penultimate spot against Belfort. St-Pierre didn’t want to mess around with his weight, among other concerns. Jon Jones is booked with Sonnen in April, and he has his own contenders at 205 pounds to deal with after that.
That leaves Weidman, who realistically felt like the guy all along. If a superfight wasn’t going to materialize for Silva, the UFC needed to take the next legitimate contender within the weight class. That was, and remains, Chris Weidman.
He’s healthy, and he’s ready. Silva needs an opponent. Boom. The pecking order wins out. Rev up the hype machine.
It might have taken a long time for everyone to get on the same page, but the bottom line is everybody finally did. Come July 6 in Las Vegas, almost a year to the day since Silva’s record 10th title defense at UFC 148, it’s on.
The whole thing feels so old-fashioned. Weidman gets his wish. And it’s for all of us to see what he’s able to do with it.