LAS VEGAS – Chris Weidman has a not-so-simple task when he climbs into the Octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday to defend his middleweight title against Lyoto Machida in the main event of UFC 175.
What can he possibly do for an encore after defeating the greatest fighter in mixed martial arts history twice in decisive fashion?
Weidman, though, is not the type to worry about such things. Machida may be the toughest opponent post-Anderson Silva that he could have possibly taken, given Machida's elusiveness and unconventional style.
Weidman's a low-key guy who hasn't created an outrageous persona to hype his fights or done anything other than let his record speak for itself.
UFC light heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier suggested on Fox Sports that Weidman may not only be the best fighter at 185 pounds, but he may be the best at 205 pounds, as well.
Given that 205 pounds is the home of one Jonathan Dwight Jones, the world's top pound-for-pound fighter, that's quite a statement by Cormier.
Weidman, though, still hasn't fully been accepted as champion by many in the UFC universe. His first win was seen as a fluke when Silva, trying to get Weidman to engage so he could counter, put his arms at his side and stuck out his chin. Weidman cracked the defenseless Silva with a left hook and knocked him out to win the title.
And so, Weidman brought the belt home to Long Island but wasn't fully embraced as champion.
Fluke, yes. Unquestioned champion, no.
"Anderson is just such an icon and I think the reaction says a lot more about what he accomplished and what people think about him rather than anything negative toward me," Weidman said.
In the rematch in December, Weidman was controlling the fight until the moment in the second round when Silva whipped a leg kick at him.
Weidman instinctively checked it the way that he had been taught by coach Ray Longo, lifting the leg and putting Silva into a dangerous situation.
Checked kicks can, and often do, break bones, and Silva's leg snapped like a twig.
And so, Weidman was forced to hear the dreaded word again:
The Silva loyalists couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that Weidman controlled virtually 100 percent of each of their two fights.
It wasn't Weidman's fault Silva chose to stick out his chin. And Silva, a 16-year veteran at the time, knew full well the risk of a checked kick when he fired at Weidman.
Weidman is not frustrated nor out to prove a point. He's simply out to win, as he has done repeatedly, and exclusively, throughout his career.
"There's nothing I can do about what other people think, but I know I'm pleased with the way I handled myself in both fights," he said. "And my goal is to go out there against Lyoto and prove myself all over again. Lyoto is a former champion and he's one of the toughest guys you'd ever want to face. He gives me a lot to worry about and so I don't have the time to worry about anything like how someone else may have perceived a particular fight."
Longo has said that he believes Machida has a weak chin, a comment that certainly raised a lot of hackles among Machida's camp, if not among Machida himself.
If Longo were trying to bait Machida, he failed miserably.
"I heard that he said that, and it's his opinion, and he's entitled to his opinion," Machida said. "But Ray Longo isn't fighting and so I am not worried about him or what he does or says. He has his opinion and I have mine, but all that matters is what happens between Weidman and me."
Weidman chuckled when Longo's comments were mentioned, but he wouldn't touch it.
The last thing he wanted to do was create an artificial controversy.
"Ray is a man of conviction and if he said it, he believes it," Weidman said, grinning broadly.
Soon, one suspects, the world will begin to believe in Weidman and regard him much more highly than it currently does.
He's one of the best MMA wrestlers in the business and he has the kind of punching power that could end a fight in a heartbeat. Plus, he has shown vastly underrated grappling.
UFC president Dana White already appreciates Weidman, even if a portion of the fan base is still making up its mind.
"Big, strong, tough, powerful, willing to fight anyone," White said. "What more could you want in a guy? He's exciting, he looks to finish and he's always getting better. If someone doesn't respect this guy, they don't know what they're watching."
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