Why former UFC champion Chris Weidman isn’t ready to make a career of it yet

By | March 29, 2024

If you want to hear a good Chris Weidman story, go see Ray Longo. Weidman himself does not want to tell these stories. Maybe he can’t, for fear of looking like someone bragging about the glory days, when his face was undamaged and all his joints were still fresh out of the box and his leg hadn’t yet been broken in half on live TV while the the entire sport watched in horror at the cruel irony of it all.

This was before all that. This was when he was new, a product of Hofstra University’s wrestling program that had been unleashed on the mixed martial arts scene of the greater New York and New Jersey metropolitan areas, through which he then rampaged like a wolverine in a petting zoo. zoo.

“That guy, you took him to a gym and he just cleared out a room,” Longo, the longtime MMA coach, told Yahoo Sports. ‘He was just getting started. He might have had a blue belt, maybe not even that. He just tapped everyone. They had to give him a brown belt just to keep those other guys from committing suicide.”

One time, Longo helped former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra train for a UFC fight. They made the trip from Long Island to Renzo Gracie’s gym in downtown Manhattan to get some work with a crew of serious black belts. Weidman was still new to jiu-jitsu, hadn’t had his first pro fight yet, and he was paired with one of the best guys in the gym.

“This guy asked me, ‘Do you want me to work with him?’” Longo said. “I was like, ‘Hey dude, just protect your neck.’ Weidman strangled him in about 30 seconds. The poor man. I mean, this was back when there weren’t that many jiu-jitsu black belts. People thought a black belt was a superpower, you know what I mean? And Weidman went through him, no problem.

By the time Weidman made his professional debut in early 2009, Longo had no doubts that he would one day be a champion. Weidman’s first fight took place at a Ring of Combat event in Atlantic City, New Jersey. MMA was still illegal in New York State at the time. If you wanted to try professional cage fighting, you pretty much had to start in New Jersey. Weidman fought four times for Ring of Combat, all victories, all in Atlantic City.

When the call from the UFC came less than two years into his pro career, Weidman wasn’t particularly surprised.

“I remember they had a website with top prospects at the time,” Weidman said. “Me and Uriah Hall were the top two guys. They let us fight and it was kind of like, whoever wins this goes to the UFC.

Weidman won via TKO in the first round. Six months later he would make his UFC debut. A few years later, he defeated the great Anderson Silva to become UFC middleweight champion and simultaneously slam the door on an entire era of MMA. In the rematch, we all know what happened there. Silva suffered a horrific leg fracture, requiring stretcher surgery. Weidman took home his undefeated record and his UFC championship belt, content in the knowledge that the future only got brighter.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: (L-R) Brad Tavares kicks Chris Weidman in a middleweight bout during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

(L-R) Brad Tavares kicks Chris Weidman during their middleweight fight at UFC 292 at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

But this sport is governed by a life cycle that is as cruel as it is short. Some stick around longer than others, but every extra year comes at a price. Weidman knows. He is now 39 years old and has undergone 30 operations. He suffered extreme physical trauma in the cage on both sides. Eight years after seeing Silva’s leg snapped in half against his tibia shield, the exact same thing happened to Weidman in a rematch with Hall, the same man he defeated to punch his ticket to the UFC in Atlantic City. promenade all those years before.

“The worst leg injury you can have in my opinion,” Weidman said. ‘A compound fracture. Bone sticking out and all that. It was just a nightmare that I had to recover from.”

Saturday night, Weidman returns to Atlantic City for a fight for the first time since those early days of his career. It’s been almost 14 years since he fought there on the Jersey Shore. The man who steps into the cage against Bruno Silva on Saturday at the UFC on ESPN event would likely be almost unrecognizable to the enthusiastic young man who left for greener pastures in 2010.

When he first accepted this fight, Weidman said, he thought it might be his last. That’s what he thought after his last one, too, when he returned from a broken leg and lost a decision to Brad Tavares last summer.

“I was almost fine when I was getting ready to retire after my last one,” Weidman said. “But then they offered me Atlantic City and I thought that would be a cool place to lay down the gloves.”

The plan was to go to the gym and see how he felt. He had two major concerns, which were inextricably linked. One was pain, the other was motivation.

“And really, my motivation has never been an issue,” Weidman said. “But what kills my motivation is the pain. If I’m in pain the entire time I train, it’s just miserable. That’s the only motivation killer I have. It’s not that I don’t really love this anymore. I like going to the gym. I like training. But if I’m in pain, that’s a problem.”

It wasn’t that long ago that he was working with Longo — a rare occurrence these days, with Weidman training mostly in North Carolina and Longo a lifer on Long Island — and he couldn’t move aside because his knee pain was so bad. strict.

“[Longo] looked at me like, ‘You’re kidding me, you can’t circle around?’ Weidman said. “Then he thought, ‘What are you doing? You’re crazy.'”

Longo angered Weidman by suggesting he would retire during a podcast appearance. But as Longo saw it, eventually enough was enough.

“My thing is, I want the best for all these guys,” Longo said. “To see him in so much pain and all his injuries, it’s heartbreaking.”

But after experimenting with all-natural supplements, Weidman said, he finally found some that worked for him. He no longer had to live his life on a diet of Advil and clenched teeth. And when he got back to the gym to test his pain and motivation for this fight in Atlantic City, he felt so good that he decided to make immediate retirement plans.

“I was very open to the idea of ​​it being over,” Weidman said. ‘Listen, I was world champion. I defended the belt three times. I’ve done great things, had great fights, so what else do I have to prove? But it’s not so much about proving it to other people or becoming a champion again. It’s more about being the best version of myself and showing what I know I can do in that cage. I haven’t been able to do that for a while and that motivates me now.”

Many fighters will tell you that they know they can’t do this forever. For the young people, that concept is still largely theoretical and therefore nothing that needs to be thought about too deeply. But after all he’s been through, Weidman has had ample opportunity to stand on the precipice and look to the other side. It doesn’t scare him anymore. He knows this is the likely next step, and probably sooner rather than later.

“I just don’t want to leave anything behind,” Weidman said. “I don’t want to leave early if I can still do it and still enjoy it. I know it will be over soon, and that’s okay. If so, I’m happy to continue.”

But maybe not yet. Not as long as the body that has endured so much can still answer the call. And not before he has at least one more chance to stand in a cage on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and feel the roar of the crowd wash over him like a tidal wave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *