(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
By near consensus, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. His UFC 162 opponent, Chris Weidman, doesn’t disagree, but that could make victory all the sweeter.
“I have a lot to showcase, and I’m excited,” Weidman told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “Against Anderson Silva, I get to demonstrate what I’ve been doing in the gym and what I’ve been dying to show other people. It’s a huge platform for me to come out looking like ‘The Man.’”
The Silva-Weidman title fight headlines the five-bout main card of UFC 162 on Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET).
Weidman (9-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) looks to accomplish what 14 UFC opponents have failed to do in 16 tries: enter the octagon and defeat Silva (33-4 MMA, 16-0 UFC).
Weidman, 29, who didn’t begin his pro career until Silva had already defended the UFC belt four times, isn’t trying to belittle the Brazilian’s accomplishments. However, Weidman has noticed a prevalent pattern in many of Silva’s other wins, and he refuses to conform to the plan.
“Anderson has definitely beat a lot of guys before they even walked in the cage,” Weidman said. “He has a certain reputation that he’s earned for himself, and he deserves that because he’s beat the crap out of guys for a while. But he’s not going to have that with me.
“I’m not going down because I’m not confident and just want to see how I do in there. I’m in there to win this fight, and that’s it. I’m going for the finish. There’s nothing he could do or say that’s going to stop me. He’s just another guy to me that I’m trying to tear through.”
Weidman’s confidence isn’t entirely unfounded. He was a two-time NCAA Division I All-America wrestler at Hofstra University and quickly has become a jiu-jitsu wizard under the tutelage of renowned instructors Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie. Adding to his mental strength is a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
What’s more, Weidman’s grappling- based style is reminiscent of the core strengths that Silva’s nemesis, wrestler Chael Sonnen, brought to the cage for a pair of title fights. Although the champ soundly defeated Sonnen in the rematch, the pair’s initial 2010 meeting proved Silva’s most difficult UFC challenge to date.
Largely for that reason, it seems, Weidman is a fashionable underdog heading into UFC 162. Weidman said he appreciated the Sonnen comparisons but thought that evaluation might actually be selling him short.
“I appreciate what they’re saying, but I also feel like I haven’t gotten to show a lot of what I can do,” he said.
Weidman said his training camp was the most professionally handled fight prep of his career, with coaching guru John Danaher laying out training schedules well in advance.
Additionally, a number of noted strikers — including three-time UFC veteran and kickboxing extraordinaire Stephen Thompson and former national boxing champion Adam Willett — stopped by to mimic Silva’s trademark attacks. But Weidman says he ultimately thinks the tweaks to practice won’t be responsible for his victory.
“There are no tricks,” Weidman said. “It just comes down to every day, no matter who you’re going with or what you’re doing, working as hard as you possibly can. I did that before this camp, and now I just did it a little smarter. But I still did the same thing: Every time I come in, I just work as hard as I can.”
For the last seven years, Silva has looked largely invincible during an incredible 16-fight UFC winning streak. Weidman is a relative MMA neophyte, but his skill set might indeed be exactly what it takes to topple the man whom most consider the best ever. But if the challenger falls short, it won’t be because he fails to recognize the importance of the moment, and it certainly won’t be because he doubts his chances.
“I’m prepared for a full five-round absolute war with things going his way and against me, just so I can battle through it and show heart, almost show a Frankie Edgar-like heart,” said Weidman, referring to the UFC’s gritty ex-lightweight champ.
“I’m ready for that, but I’m also ready to take him down and submit him away. I’m ready to punch him in the face and knock him out. That would be ideal. But either way, a victory is good for me.”
For the latest on UFC 162, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.