LAS VEGAS – For the last year, since he became the middleweight division's top contender by blowing out Mark Munoz, a series of bad breaks beset Chris Weidman.
He needed shoulder surgery. His home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. He'd have to fight Anderson Silva for the title after nearly a full year on the sidelines.
But when the fight started, all the breaks went Weidman's way. And none was more significant than the present that Silva packaged and gift-wrapped for him in the main event of UFC 162 before a crowd of 12,399 at the MGM Grand Garden.
Weidman, a four-time collegiate wrestling All-American, twice in junior college and twice at Hofstra, barely needed his wrestling because Silva kept sticking his chin at him and dared Weidman to hit it.
A little more than a minute into the second round, Weidman landed a crushing left hook and became the first new middleweight champion since Oct. 14, 2006, when Silva defeated Rich Franklin.
It left him in awe of what he was able to accomplish, given the hardships he endured.
"That whole struggle with the hurricane and the injury, I tried not to let it get to me, but a lot of stress was added," Weidman said. "I did go through some tough times. I tried to put it out of my mind. My wife and my family did a good job of trying to take the pressure off me, and the UFC helped me, which was huge. I was able [to] focus on the fight, obviously.
"Any time you have adversity like that, it makes you stronger, a better person, stronger person, and a better fighter."
And there was one side benefit of being off: He got to work hard on his striking, the weak point in his game if there was one.
"The time off, I think I got a lot better at stand up, so it helped," he said.
That improvement made Weidman a far more formidable opponent. Scores of UFC fighters, including champions Georges St-Pierre and Dominick Cruz, had picked Weidman to win, but there were probably few who had seen it ending the way it did.
Weidman's friend and teammate, former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, gleefully texted White when the fight ended.
"I told you!" Serra wrote.
But then Serra wrote that Weidman would keep the belt longer than the astonishingly long reign that Silva put together.
That remains to be seen, but Weidman is 10-0 and has no discernible weaknesses. If Silva doesn't beat him in a rematch that will likely occur despite Silva's public misgivings on Saturday after the fight, there aren't a lot of guys out there now who seem to be likely candidates to do it.
"This guy is a very talented fighter," White said.
No one doubted that going in, which was why the odds were so close. Silva went off as a 2-1 favorite, the closest the odds have been in a Silva fight in years.
But Weidman was fighting the man universally regarded as the greatest mixed martial artist ever, and a guy who had so many ways to win.
Silva was clearly trying to draw Weidman into a slugfest with his antics, but it backfired.
Weidman worked tirelessly on his boxing, and threw combinations that were fast and sharp on Saturday. He took Silva down early, and immediately worked for submissions.
He clearly was composed, though he said it was hard to get over the fact that he was fighting the greatest of all-time.
"It was surreal, and get my wife, my parents and everyone in the cage, please," Weidman said of his instant reaction. "It was a great feeling. I'd envisioned being here so many times since I decided to do this sport. I tried to keep it as real as possible leading up, but it still feels a little far-fetched. I'm just trying to make it feel more believable.
"What I accomplished feels surreal. It still hasn't settled in for sure. … I feel for him. I'm happy for myself and I'm happy for my family, but I feel for him also."
Despite Serra's boast, UFC history has taught us to never expect too much from a new champion. A reign like Silva's is impossible to fathom at this stage.
But he's a big, physical guy with everything one would want in an elite fighter.
Weidman may not keep the belt for nearly seven years, but it's going to take Silva, or someone near that level, to take it from him.
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