Baldwin-native Chris “The All-American” Weidman is defending his middleweight title against former light heavyweight champion and Brazilian standout Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida in a hotly contested international Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout riding the wave of patriotism whipped up in the World Cup.
Dubbed “International Fight Week” by UFC, Weidman (11-0) will be tackling one of his hardest challenges in Machida (21-4), a national hero of Brazil, on Pay-per-view at UFC 175 on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. It comes about a year after Weidman, the odds stacked against him, defeated the former pound-for-pound king, Anderson “The Spider” Silva, in a “Rocky Balboa”-type of moment, knocking out the champ in the second round on July 6, 2013. Shocking the mixed martial arts (MMA) universe, his win was criticized by many as a fluke, but Weidman laid his critics to rest as he went on to beat Silva in a rematch to retain the title at UFC 168 in December.
“I had a lot to prove in the second fight, I knew I was a better fighter and now I’m going to move on in the middleweight division,” said Weidman at a press conference for UFC 175. Having double-knee surgery after the Silva fight, Weidman added he “never felt better.” As of Thursday, Weidman is a 9-to-5 favorite to retain his title, with Machida getting 8-to-5 odds to win.
Known as a full-contact combat sport, MMA uses both striking and grappling techniques from a variety of other combat sports and martial arts. The fight isn’t just regulated to standing up, as practitioners in jiu-jitsu and wrestling utilize their ground game to take opponents down. Judging is based on a 10-point scoring system with each round lasting five minutes for a total of five rounds in a championship match and three rounds in a non-championship tilt.
Weidman’s storied career began during his years attending Baldwin High School, as he helped win both Nassau County and New York State wrestling championships. After graduating, he earned four All-American wrestling honors, two at Nassau Community College and two at Hofstra University. It was during his time at Hofstra that Weidman was introduced to MMA coach Ray Longo and former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra of East Meadow.
Weidman attempted to make a run at the Olympics after his college years, but it didn’t come to fruition as he found his niche as a wrestling coach and then a fighter for Longo’s gym. Fighting under the Serra/Longo Competition Team, both Serra and Longo have MMA schools on Long Island. Ray Longo Mixed Martial Arts is located in Garden City while Serra’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools are based out of Levittown and Huntington.
At 24-years-old, Weidman made his professional debut in a minor organization called Ring of Combat in 2009. After a successful run, he was called by the UFC and won his first fight for the company two years later. He went on to beat world-class competitors before eventually receiving his title shot at UFC 162 for the middleweight belt against Silva.
MMA organizations having deals with Viacom, NBC and NewsCorp have brought the sport from a fringe event to the mainstream. With that star power, Weidman has given back to Long Island. Last month, he helped raise money for Isaiah Bird, a 6-year-old who was born without legs who is currently living in a Glen Cove shelter, and after Sandy Weidman held a fundraiser for the storm’s survivors.
Still, the sport isn’t for everyone. Since the UFC’s first event in 1993, the company, now owned by Zuffa LLC, has gone through great lengths to appease opponents, and representatives say they have worked diligently to create a safer environment for their employees.
New York is the only state with an athletic commission that doesn’t allow the regulation of MMA. The state Senate has passed legislation to regulate MMA for five straight years, most recently this May, but it has yet to pass the state Assembly.
“It’s disheartening, it doesn’t make any sense at all, you can fight pretty much anywhere in the world but cannot in New York,” said Weidman, noting that besides him and Serra, the state is home to a third champion, Jon Jones. “It’s a complete joke and it has gotten to the point where it’s past frustrating….The fans should have a show that they deserve.”
He’ll have to channel some of that anger this weekend. Brazil has roots in MMA dating back many decades. Machida, who uses a karate-style and is not only one of the best counter-strikers in the game, he’s close friends with the former champ Silva, was asked at the press conference about bringing a belt back to his home country.
“There’s always pressure but I can change that pressure into motivation for Brazil.” Machida said. “This isn’t personal to me at all….It comes down to whoever can use their discipline better, anything can happen in MMA.”