Former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman (14-4) moves up in class and returns to action after nearly a year on the sidelines when he faces undefeated light heavyweight contender Dominick Reyes (11-0) on Friday at UFC Boston. The two prolific finishers will meet in the main event in the Boston Garden and the matchup poses some interesting questions about the importance of size and youth, among other interesting topics.
Read on for our breakdown of the main event and get ready for the weekend’s big UFC card.
Weidman is skilled and comfortable on his feet kickboxing with anyone. Some of his biggest career wins have seen stand-up striking play a prominent role.
At middleweight Weidman used his height and length well, paired with volume striking and hitting opponents at moments they thought they could breathe. Weidman’s confidence in his own takedown defense has historically also allowed him to unload with punches, elbows, kicks and knees without much fear of being countered with wrestling and put on his back.
Against Reyes, Weidman will not have his usual height and reach advantage. If Weidman and his team have prepared accordingly, getting him used to a different range and the difference in timing and blocking and head movement he’ll need against Reyes, he’ll have opportunities to counter with punches as well as with takedown attempts.
If not, however, Reyes may very well find success with his long cross and the high kicks he likes to finish punch combinations with on opponents who incorrectly believe they are out of range. Reyes himself also likes to throw in flurries, and he has the reach to punch around guards as well as the power to punch through them.
His own coverage is pretty good when he’s on defense, but his hands drop and his chin juts forward a tad when he’s on the hunt, chasing opponents down and looking for the knockout. No one thus far has been able to make the young prospect pay for his aggressiveness.
Weidman certainly has the poise and counter-punching skill to do so, especially if Reyes closes the distance too much for Weidman in a haste to look for a finish. What may be difficult for Weidman to do in this matchup is to deal with becoming the shorter, less long man, and realize that he can’t necessarily throw the types of test-balloon soft shots he often does to measure shorter opponents at length with.
Weidman himself also drops his hands a bit when on the offense, which will give Reyes openings to counter, even if his own technical countering ability isn’t yet as developed as Weidman’s. Weidman is strong in Thai plum clinches as well as single-collar ties, but in recent fights he’s had a tendency to drop his hands on separation, believing he is safe.
It’s got him caught by shorter opponents like Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and Reyes is certainly capable of doing the same, especially since he seems to specialize in the hustle of throwing first off of clinch separation. It is entirely possible that Weidman will also feel a serious power difference in the strikes of Reyes, who seems much larger, taller and heavier than him.
Weidman is no small man, but he’s spent a career at a class 20 pounds lighter than the one he’ll be competing at Friday. There is a difference in power between middleweight and light heavyweight, and it’s not disconnected to why guys like Weidman found it worthwhile to cut significant weight down to middleweight for so long.
Weidman was an excellent national-level amateur freestyle wrestler and has done a great job over the course of his MMA career at getting opponents to the mat when he wants to. With that said, his takedown entries often tend to involve a bit of reaching on his part, and they haven’t always come seamlessly off of striking exchanges.
This may be problematic as he ages and slows a tad, especially against younger opposition like Reyes who might be waiting with uppercuts and angles to shots that aren’t set-up with punches or involve more hinging over at the waist than squatting level-changes.
Weidman will need to be able to time reactive entries that are powerful enough to move Reyes back on contact if and when his younger opponent gets aggressive with punches and charges forward. If he does that, Weidman can likely put Reyes on his back and take control of the fight.
Weidman should also consider entering into underhooks on the upper body of Reyes after pressing him against the cage. Weidman has strong body locks and is really good on the inside when he insists on it.
He can attempt those types of entries without a great deal of risk and can also give himself an opportunity to show his deeper arsenal in wrestling exchanges than Reyes. If Weidman can press Reyes against the cage over and again, he’ll be able to grind the big man down a bit, take away the threat of his reach and score points even if he doesn’t get takedowns each time.
Weidman has thus far proven himself to be the better ground fighter in comparison to Reyes. Weidman is methodical from top positions, mixing in guard pass attempts with knee-cut throughs, pins and hip control and strikes. Weidman can be stifling on top when he wants or dynamic and hard to keep up with.
He also has real finishing ability off of his own back, especially with front chokes and leg locks. Reyes is rangy and lanky and won’t be easy to keep control of, especially early, but if there are prolonged ground exchanges and he is aggressive in trying to get back up to his feet, I’m willing to bet that he’ll give openings for Weidman to lock into dominant positions and submission holds.
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