How can you be the undefeated, reigning UFC middleweight champion and have many fans and critics believing you still haven’t really proven yourself?
This is the challenge Chris Weidman faces as he readies to defend his title against Lyoto Machida Saturday in the main event of UC 175. Despite 11 wins in 11 tries and consecutive victories over Anderson Silva, the man universally acknowledged as the greatest fighter in MMA history, the 30-year-old New Yorker is still hounded by questions and comments about his legitimacy as champion and needing to prove that really is the best fighter in the middleweight division.
Normally, an unblemished record and UFC gold around your waist is enough to quell the questions about your legitimacy, at least with the rational members of the MMA audience, but Weidman is a special case and his current predicament shouldn’t come as any surprise given that his resume was called into question when he was tapped to face the first time around at Silva at UFC 162.
At the time, Weidman was 9-0 and coming off a devastating second-round knockout win over Mark Munoz. Prior to that, the Hofstra University alum had earned a unanimous decision win over former title challenger Demian Maia in a short notice contest on FOX. But he wasn’t an established name. His fight with Munoz aired on Fuel TV and didn’t draw many viewers and while he’d gone 5-0 inside the Octagon, many wondered if the four-time All-American was a big enough name to share the cage with “The Spider.”
Their encounter at UFC 162 ended emphatically, but riddled with excuses and explanations.
Early in the second round, Silva dropped his hands and taunted Weidman as he had done so many other challengers in the past. He called on the Serra-Longo Fight Team member and pantomimed being hurt by a glancing blow. Instead of getting rattled, however, Weidman kept his wits about him and doubled up on the left hook, catching Silva on the jaw and bringing the longest championship reign in UFC history to an unexpected halt.
“It wouldn’t have happened if Silva wasn’t clowning.”
“Weidman didn’t win as much as Silva lost.”
“If Silva fought him for real, that would never happen.”
Similar comments chased the new champion’s victory and became the central narrative heading into the rematch, which took place six months later at UFC 168. Unlike the first time, his ownership of the middleweight title eliminated any questions about whether or not Weidman deserved to share the cage with Silva, but whether he could replicate his win against a more serious, more focused version of the Brazilian superstar remained a top for debate.