The best fights are usually those that have the highest stakes, and though it’s not a title fight, it’s not a stretch to say that Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi will be fighting for their professional lives when they meet Saturday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y., in the co-main event of UFC 210.
A former UFC middleweight champion, Weidman suddenly finds himself on a two-fight losing streak.
Not all two-fight losing streaks are the same, and Weidman’s is about as bad as it can get. He was knocked out, violently, in back-to-back fights, losing his title to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194 and a spot as the No. 1 contender to Yoel Romero at UFC 205.
Weidman is in a strange position. Few doubt he’s one of the five best middleweights and at worst, one of the top 20 pound-for-pound fighters.
Yet, should he get beaten by Mousasi on Saturday, he’ll have three losses in succession and will be without a win since a May 23, 2015, title defense over Vitor Belfort.
Weidman insists he’s not troubled by it and doesn’t think he’s a lesser fighter than he had been. He blames mistakes in each of the fights for his defeats and says he’s eyeing another championship run later this year.
“I just have to enjoy the process and focus on every single day, every sparring session, every workout and get excited about pushing myself to new limits,” Weidman said. “I’m pushing through things every day and I’m getting better and better each day. All through this, I’ve stayed positive.
“I know I’m going to be the middleweight champion again. And after that, eventually I’ll go up to 205 and become the champion there. Overcoming this will be a big part of my story.”
But he has his hands full with a fighter who has been on a roll, with four wins in a row and six in his last seven. Mousasi also has the motivation to perform because he’s in the final fight of his UFC contract.
He wants to stay with the UFC if possible, but said the UFC’s recent contract offer isn’t close to what he wanted. He’s also miffed that he wasn’t given the opportunity to fight Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 when Jon Jones was yanked from the card after failing a drug test.
Mousasi agreed to take the fight and looked as if he would get the chance, but at the last minute, the UFC gave the fight to Anderson Silva.
So he finds himself in a strange situation heading into the bout with Weidman. A win on Saturday and he’ll be in a strong position going into his free-agency period. He’s got a close relationship with Bellator president Scott Coker, he’ll have won five in a row and he’ll be ranked no worse than fifth at middleweight, which is where he is now.
A loss, though, would lessen his bargaining power and push him that much farther away from a championship shot.
Mousasi has held championships in Strikeforce and Dream, and has 41 professional MMA wins. He’s made his points about wanting to be paid better and now said he wants to show he deserves to be regarded among the elite middleweights in the world.
“I need to prove it with this fight,” Mousasi said. “Talking doesn’t mean anything if you lose. I’m planning on beating Weidman on Saturday night.”
He said Weidman is a “big, strong guy, big hands, but I don’t think he’s great at any one thing.”
He’s made those types of comments throughout camp, and they haven’t escaped Weidman’s notice. Weidman is one of the sport’s more laid-back fighters, but a two-fight losing streak will put anyone on edge.
“He called me out because he thinks he can beat me, so I take that as a challenge and as motivation to go out there and be dominant,” Weidman said. “… If he’s judging my mentality in defeat, I think he’s in the completely wrong place and is making a mistake.”
Weidman is also a victim of high expectations. After winning the title and making three successful defenses, he was at the pinnacle of the sport. It’s not as if he’s lost to scrubs, but so much is expected of him that he hears the critics if he’s not flawless.
He said what’s happening to him is no different than what other elite athletes face.
“If LeBron James has a couple of bad games, everyone starts to say, ‘Oh, he’s not the same guy anymore,’ ” Weidman said. “And then he comes back and crushes it and everyone calls him the greatest of all time. The difference is, as fighters, we don’t get to go out there and compete two, three, four times a week. It’s more like two, three times a year, and so if you lose or you have a bad performance, it’s out there for a long, long time.
“I know what I am capable of and I know I’ve gotten better and better along the way in this process. And all it takes is one good fight and it all changes.”