A loser of four of his last five bouts, it would have been a long time, if ever, that Chris Weidman got another shot at the UFC middleweight championship.
Making the division’s 185-pound weight limit was becoming increasingly difficult for the former champion, whose July 22, 2017, win over Kelvin Gastelum is his only victory in the last four years.
But a move up one division may have changed the course of Weidman’s career. A victory over Dominick Reyes on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in the main event of UFC Boston at TD Garden could see him standing across the cage from the man who is widely recognized as the greatest fighter who ever lived, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, sometime in early 2020.
“The goal at middleweight had been to get my belt back and defend it a few more times, but I wasn’t really excited about that because I’d already done it,” Weidman said. “But now, to be in this position at light heavyweight and go into a weight class with a guy who is pretty much undefeated and known as one of the greatest of all-time and people think he’d smoke me, that excites me.”
Weidman, though, isn’t the only fighter who feels one win away from a shot at Jones. Reyes, who is 5-0 in the UFC and ranked fourth in the division, believes he’ll get a shot at Jones if he gets past Weidman.
And he’s probably not wrong. Daniel Cormier is ranked first, but he’s going to fight a rubber match at heavyweight with champion Stipe Miocic and then retire. No. 2 Thiago Santos and No. 3 Anthony Smith both lost to Jones this year and are both rehabilitating from injuries.
That leaves Reyes at No. 4 as Jones’ highest-ranked potential opponent if he gets past Weidman on Friday.
“Chris and I are both in the same position, I think,” Reyes said. “The winner of this fight seems to be in the best spot.”
Knowing that Jones is out there is a huge carrot for Weidman, who began his career 13-0 before faltering. He lost for the first time and surrendered his title to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194 when he was knocked out in the fourth round on Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas.
After being out for 11 months, getting injured and losing an opportunity for a rematch with Rockhold, Weidman returned at UFC 205 on Nov. 12, 2016, in the UFC’s debut at Madison Square Garden and was knocked out with a knee from Yoel Romero.
Another knee cost him a loss to Gegard Mousasi at UFC 210 in Buffalo, New York, on April 8, 2017. He stemmed the bleeding with an impressive victory over Gastelum on Long Island on July 22, 2017, but then was knocked out in November by Jacare Souza in his most recent fight.
He said there are simple reasons to explain each, and went through all four losses in detail with Yahoo Sports explaining the small mistakes he made that led to the losses.
But if he beats Reyes — no sure thing as Reyes is one of the UFC’s rising stars and is a -170 favorite at the MGM Grand sportsbook to defeat Weidman — none of those losses will matter all that much.
It will give Weidman a unique opportunity to be the one man who dethroned the men who at the time were widely regarded as the best fighter in the sport’s history. He did that by knocking out Anderson Silva at UFC 162 on July 6, 2013, when Silva was at the peak of his powers, and then would presumably get the shot to do it next year against Jones.
“My skillset could present some problems for Jon,” Weidman said, but it’s the opportunity to defeat another iconic fighter that has him as motivated as he’s been in years.
“I definitely want to finish on a high note and I don’t think it gets better than beating the greatest of all-time at middleweight, then going up to light heavyweight and becoming the champion there and then beating the greatest of all-time there,” Weidman said. “Then it would be, ‘Peace out and thanks everyone.’ That sounds pretty good to me.”
Reyes, though, has the same kind of aspirations and is confident he’ll be able to deal with Weidman’s wrestling. Given that Weidman has been knocked out so frequently during his 1-4 streak, Reyes doesn’t think it’s boasting to say that he doesn’t believe Weidman’s chin will hold up.
The results say that, Reyes said.
“He’s a legend and I respect him for what he has done, but just look at what has happened with him and realize what I am capable of doing,” Reyes said. “It’s just not the knockout with Jacare. Gastelum dropped him, Yoel knocked him out, and it’s just how it goes, man. You get knocked out a few times and you become more susceptible to being knocked out again.
“Put your body through these wars and it’s going to wear. We’re not indestructible and we don’t last forever. We have a finite timeline and the more you damage yourself, the closer you get to that finality.”
Reyes is excited to test himself against Weidman, the biggest name in his MMA career. His 11-0 record includes a first-round knockout victory over Jared Canonier, which looks a lot more significant in light of Canonier’s recent rise.
Reyes has never lost a fight, pro or amateur, and feels he’s the guy to end the Jones Era.
“Chris is a legend and beating a legend is always good for the brand,” Reyes said. “But obviously everyone knows what Jon has done and so I understand I have this huge opportunity in front of me. You don’t see Jon finishing a lot of guys any more and I feel I’m in the right spot at the right time. I think if I handle my business, good things are about to happen.”