Welcome to Weidman’s World

Photo courtesy of mmafighting.com

Photo courtesy of mmafighting.com

One of the downsides of having a very dominant champion is that you almost lose the allure of an entire weight class for the spectacle of one very special individual. Such was the case of Anderson “The Spider” Silva, who reigned supreme as UFC middleweight champion for nearly seven years with so dominant a fighting style he rightly earned the title of pound for pound king and cemented his place in martial arts history. While Anderson’s brilliance was equal parts stunning and terrifying to watch the rest of the division couldn’t help but pale in comparison for it was almost as if they were just competing to be next in line for embarrassment at the hands of “The Spider”, a fate proven time and time again.

Chris Weidman bucked this trend in emphatic style with his back to back stoppage victories over Silva throughout 2013 and in doing so blew open the middleweight landscape once more. Due to a particularly well timed leg check breaking Silva’s leg and putting him out of the Octagon for approximately a year in their second fight, newly crowned Weidman now has a murderer’s row awaiting him starting with “old lion” Vitor Belfort who himself had a spectacular 2013 with three head kick knockouts over Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson respectively. If Weidman topples Belfort (no small feat in of itself) his next challengers at present look to be BJJ phenom Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza or alternatively the winner of former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi and the renewed Lyoto Machida’s February 15th meeting. Make no mistake about it, should Weidman have an answer to Souza’s world class grappling as well as the vastly different stand up skills of challengers like Belfort and Machida he will have cemented the place in mixed martial arts history he first built with his victories over Silva over 2013.

Although the newly crowned champ’s demeanour seems too humble and easy going for fans to associate him with such prestige (despite his victories over Silva) Weidman possesses an abundance of the most important attribute a mixed martial artist can possess: well roundedness. Where Souza threatens with grappling Weidman can utilise his reach advantage to keep the grappling maestro away on the feet and while Machida is almost certainly faster than the bigger Weidman his strength and grappling ability could easily sap that advantage away. Even Belfort, a rare athlete combining strength and speed has shown trouble in the later rounds while Weidman was winning gruelling decision victories before talk of him facing Anderson Silva had begun to materialize. Weidman’s versatility was on display most prominently in his performances against Silva and also Mark Munoz, a wrestler comparable in accolades to Weidman who looked helpless against Weidman’s blend of wrestling and Jiu Jitsu before being annihilated by a standing elbow counter of all things in the second round. Even going into his first bout with Silva the general consensus from fighters and eventually confirmed by Weidman himself was that the challenger would exploit Silva’s difficulties with wrestlers before submitting him on the ground. The first round of their initial meeting certainly seemed to be proving this prediction accurate but it was only when Weidman caught Silva standing with a left hook and pummelled him unconscious in the second round that the MMA world truly understood Chris Weidman was dangerous anywhere and everywhere the fight could take place.

As of this present moment the most threatening challenger appears to be Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza with his brute physical strength and world class grappling. Although Weidman defeated similarly prestigious grappler Demian Maia in 2012 Souza is an ox of a man and therefore far less likely to be controlled to the extent the smaller Maia was. Belfort’s issues with cardio as well as his title run not involving a single challenger who attempted to wrestle him (although in fairness Dan Henderson was never afforded the chance) do little to dispute the various ways Weidman matches up favourably against him although his improvement is undeniable. As for Machida and Mousasi both fighters will forfeit size and strength to Weidman and have shown some trouble with wrestlers, Mousasi was defeated by “King” Mo Lawal and Machida losing to both Phil Davis and Jon Jones.

As we enter 2014 the UFC’s middleweight division is easily the most interesting it has ever been with a cohort of strong challengers and a fresh new champion whose only similarity with his predecessor is a spectacular talent for fighting.  Time will tell if the man who dethroned Anderson Silva will leave a similar legacy but the future couldn’t be brighter for the new Middleweight champ.

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