April 4, 2017

UFC 210: Chris Weidman Hopes the Third Time’s the Charm

By Schwan Humes

On December 12, 2015 at UFC 194, the amazing run of Chris "All American" Weidman came to a stop. The hype train completely derailed as he suffered a decisive and punishing loss to Luke Rockhold. Exactly eleven months later at UFC 205, Weidman returned with hopes of getting back on the winning track and hopefully moving into position to challenge for and regain the UFC Middleweight Championship. However, someone forgot to send his opponent, Yoel Romero, the memo, as Romero dispatched Weidman in devastating fashion after a competitive battle. Four months later, Weidman returns, once again to attempt to regain some of the luster he lost after two decisive stoppage losses. This article isn’t an obituary regarding the career of Weidman; it’s a closer look at his talent, approach, techniques, and opposition, how those qualities have led him to the point in his career he currently finds himself in, and what it means for his upcoming fight at UFC 210 against Gegard Mousasi.

When developing an identity for a fighter, you have to discuss his or her physical attributes -- you have to gauge the athleticism and other traits that will determine the strategies you set and the techniques you instill in them. Regardless of which skills are installed and refined in a fighter, there must be a certain level of physical talent or a particular set of physical attributes that will allow that fighter to get into the positions that allow him or her to use those skills. Or in the alternative, these talents and attributes can allow that fighter to avoid or survive certain spots long enough to make technique, strategy, or Fight IQ a factor.

In the case of Chris Weidman, his team developed a game that accentuated his advantages. At heart Weidman is a pressure fighter; a lot of his success is built exclusively around his ability or willingness to move forward using his considerable size, length, strength, and physicality to put a huge amount of volume on opponents. The purpose of this volume is to establish a range that is uncomfortable for his opponents, to limit their freedom to maneuver around the cage freely and to eventually push them to the cage where he can overwhelm them with well-placed power shots, beat them up in the clinch, or transition into an all out wrestling/grappling assault.

Weidman emphasizes the use of a steady jab and front kicks forward (set up with well-structured footwork) to deter movement and to establish pressure on the opponent, as well as round kicks to the leg and body to corral any opponents who hope to slip and circle out. His length, physicality, and steady workrate utilizing this small but efficient series of techniques is often enough to control pace and place of the fight. Once Weidman traps you, he transitions to the clinch seamlessly, working a variety of short punches, knees, and elbows on the inside; that allows him to impose his will and slowly chip away at the man in front of him.

The fighter’s attention being drawn to the combination of control and well-placed, punishing strikes in most cases opens him up for takedown chains that simultaneously create openings for Weidman to strike and wear his opposition out in these grappling exchanges. In addition, it allows Weidman to eventually land fight-changing and often fight-winning takedowns. The directness and simplicity of Weidman’s game is a perfect fit for the activity and physicality that defines it. It’s these advantages that allowed him to pull out short notice fights over wily and dangerous veterans like Demian Maia, blast through tough but limited veterans like Tom Lawlor and Mark Munoz, and dominate skilled, seasoned, and physically gifted championship-level fighters like Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, and Vitor Belfort.

Weidman has made a career of beating good, not great fighters or formerly great fighters who are now merely good; they lacked the size, strength, athleticism, and balance of skills necessary to get out of the spots Weidman put them in, nor could they take advantage of the physical or technical shortcomings in his game. Technique and strategy matters, as you can scheme for anyone, but there comes a point where the lack of physical attributes and dynamic athleticism limits your inability to execute a game plan, even when you have matched if not exceeded an opponent in certain aspects of mixed martial arts.

Against Belfort his durability and physical strength neutralized the short bursts of athletically dynamic striking showcased in Belfort’s classic and most recent performances; after being put on his heels briefly, Weidman recovered, got his hands on Belfort, took him down, and finished him. Machida, who has built a career on timing, outmaneuvering and outclassing opponents who were often bigger and stronger, was thoroughly outworked, pushed back, and manhandled by Weidman. The distance and angles that were so often safe havens were rendered useless by Weidman’s length, as his straight punches and kicks beat up, pushed back, and limited Machida’s movement, disrupting his rhythm. And then there was his masterpiece against Anderson Silva, where Weidman’s size and strength enabled him to maul Silva in clinches, pressure him in the open cage, and beat him up at range. Weidman’s length, strength, and size kept Silva from being able to time him for counters, dominate him in clinches, or operate in a defensively responsible manner at range. Three fighters who in their prime cut a swath through various organizations’ light heavyweight and middleweight divisions were unable to be effective in anything more than spots because of Weidman’s physical advantages and their own physical declines.

The two times Weidman faced his equals -- or superiors to be more correct -- he came up short. The poise shown under fire when he had the upper hand physically wasn’t present once the playing field was level. The same man who flashed a disciplined and layered striking game against the incredibly elusive Lyoto Machida was uncharacteristically flummoxed against Rockhold, so much so that he resorted to a spinning attack that not only confused those familiar with his game, but led to a takedown that turned the momentum of the fight and eventually ripped the championship belt from his grasp. In his second fight against a top end athlete, the deliberate aggression, steady activity, and timely takedowns shown against Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort were replaced by overpursuit, inconsistent offense, and forced takedown attempts that once again confused fans and led directly to ANOTHER devastating loss.

This leads us to Saturday night, where Chris Weidman faces another fighter who not only is his superior in regard to athleticism, but has comparable (if not superior) size and strength to his own, meaning that for the third time in a row he will have to fight a close to perfect fight to win. At UFC 210, the third time will be the charm, in that either Weidman will prove that he can beat a physically superior opponent with a wide array of skills, showing that he still deserves to be mentioned with the best in the world at middleweight, or, if he loses, his career and standing in the division as an elite fighter won’t just be jeopardized by that third loss, they will be finished.

UFC 210: Cormier vs. Johnson 2 takes place April 8, 2017 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.

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