He might have had just nine professional fights, but Chris Weidman goes into Sunday’s match-up against Anderson Silva being tipped by many in the industry to end the seven-year winning streak of one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time.
The 29-year-old former All-American wrestler is undefeated since making his MMA debut back in 2009, and has long been touted as a future champion.
But is Weidman, who is making his comeback from shoulder surgery in November that forced him to pull out of a fight against Tim Boetsch late last year, ready to upset the man widely regarded as world’s number one pound-for-pound fighter?
After all, this is Anderson Silva.
Since announcing himself to the world with a 49-second knockout of Chris Leben back in 2006, the imperious Brazilian has towered over the UFC middleweight division.
His 16-bout winning streak stands as a UFC record, as does his run of ten consecutive title defences, in a sport where long, unbeaten reigns are uncommon.
Only twice has Silva’s opponents managed to survive a full five rounds with him – Thales Leites in 2009 and Demian Maia in 2010 – and on both occasions Silva won by unanimous decision.
So it would seem fanciful, at best, to consider a man fighting only his tenth professional bout a legitimate chance to win.
But that’s what plenty of Weidman’s peers are doing.
Chael Sonnen, twice defeated by Silva, said, “I think Anderson is an excellent fighter, an awesome fighter, but he’s just not winning this fight”, while reigning UFC welterweight champion Georges St Pierre labelled it a “very bad match-up” for Silva.
It’s thought Weidman’s combative wrestling style could expose a weakness in Silva’s ground game, and speaking to The Roar ahead of Saturday night’s (Sunday afternoon AEST) fight at the MGM Grand, the Long Island native made no attempt to hide his approach.
“The biggest thing is the takedowns and to try to expose him with his wrestling, I’m a better wrestler than him and he’s never faced anyone like me,” he said.
“I want to make him fight my fight, put him on the ground and get him into my world.
“The mindset is number one going out there to finish him, and finish him fast.”
Chris Weidman on the way to a dominant 30-27 win over Alessio Sakara at UFC On Versus 3 (Image: Supplied).
Weidman seemed undeterred by the difficult prospect of facing ‘The Spider’ having not fought since knocking out Mark Muñoz almost a year ago.
“At that point (after beating Muñoz) I thought I was going to have to fight one more fight but then the injury (before Boetsch) happened,” he said.
“But everything’s good to go now, it took about three months until I was working out and about four months until I was back fighting at 100 percent, but the shoulder couldn’t be better.”
Since the shoulder surgery Weidman has made serious changes to his training regime and he has relished the stricter approach.
“My training camps have always been very general, but it’s been nice to have a schedule, and everything has been planned out already,” he said.
“I know what I’m doing every day, and every day I had to get up and train as hard as I can whether I was tired or not.
“I’ve trained with a whole bunch of different fighters, we’ve nailed down a couple of different tactics that Silva might try, I couldn’t be happier with my preparation.”
For the first time in his career, Weidman has brought in a range of fighters to specifically combat Silva’s striking style.
“I had a bunch of good, really good kickboxers, some wonderful kickboxers that were living in New York City that we used,” he said.
“We used a couple time national champion boxer for the standup, and then we had a lot of good jiu-jitsu guys who could kind of emulate the best they could some of the stuff that Anderson does on the ground too.
“So I think we did the best we could with this camp preparing for Anderson.”
At 38, the expectation is that Silva’s inevitable physical decline must occur soon – though as Weidman quickly pointed out, “he doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all, he’s still a world class fighter.”
For the 28-year-old Weidman, a loss wouldn’t necessarily mean ruling out another shot at the title down the track, but he quickly dismisses the possibility of anything but a win on Saturday night.
“It would be a complete failure,” he said of losing.
“This is my time, this is the fight I’ve been destined to have. I’m not looking for another shot, I want to beat him and make a huge statement.”
To say ‘huge statement’ is nearly underselling the magnitude of what a win would mean for Weidman, and for the entire UFC.
There’s a reason the likes of St-Pierre have picked him to win this fight and, on the evidence of his previous fights, Weidman appears well-equipped to trouble Silva.
The likes of Muñoz and Maia are certainly not Silva, but Weidman goes into this fight with as a genuine chance to topple ‘The Spider’ and come Sunday we might find out why.