Chris Weidman beat Anderson Silva twice in less than six months. | Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/UFC/Getty
When Chris Weidman made his professional mixed martial arts debut on Feb. 20, 2009, Anderson Silva was already two years, four months and six days into his historic reign over the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight division. Still, from day one, Weidman fixed his sights on “The Spider,” hoping their paths might someday cross.
“When I started MMA about four years ago, he was the champion at 185 [pounds], and when I made the decision to go to 185, I had to believe I could beat the champion of the world or there was no reason for me to do this,” Weidman said during a UFC Fight Club Q&A in April. “From the get-go, no matter who I was fighting coming up, I wasn’t only training to beat those guys I was up against; I was training already at that point to beat Anderson Silva and to be the best in the world.”
As Silva pieced together an unprecedented run of dominance, Weidman honed his skills on the regional circuit. He compiled a perfect 4-0 mark within the Ring of Combat promotion and quickly established himself as one of MMA’s top prospects. Stylistically, many looked upon Weidman as a prototypical foil for Silva. A four-time collegiate wrestling All-American at Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, he defeated “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Ryan Bader as a senior and tried out for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, only to have a rib injury interrupt those plans.
Groomed under former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra and respected striking coach Ray Longo, Weidman exhibited a startling aptitude for submissions early in his development. Inside three months, he won his first Grappler’s Quest tournament -- his weight class and the absolute division -- and submitted all 13 of his opponents in doing so. Moreover, Weidman qualified for the prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships in 2009 after just eight months of formal training and pushed seven-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Andre Galvao to the limit in a memorable match in Barcelona, Spain. Though he lost on points, he emerged as one of the tournament’s breakout stars and only gained momentum thereafter.
Weidman entered the UFC in 2011, defeating Alessio Sakara, Jesse Bongfeldt, Tom Lawlor, Demian Maia and Mark Munoz to become the No. 1 contender at 185 pounds. On March 6, it was announced that he would challenge Silva for his middleweight crown in the UFC 162 main event.
“Now that I’ve finally got the opportunity to get there,” he said, “I’m not going to let the opportunity slip through my fingers.”
As the MMA world now knows, those words proved prophetic. Weidman -- Sherdog.com’s “Fighter of the Year” for 2013 -- knocked out a clowning Silva with a left hook and follow-up ground strikes in the UFC 162 headliner at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, becoming the sixth middleweight champion in the promotion’s 20-year history. He brought the match to a shocking and decisive close 78 seconds into round two.
Weidman took down Silva in the first round, softened him with ground-and-pound and aggressively fished for two leg locks, first a kneebar and then a heel hook. Once “The Spider” returned to his feet, he started the uncomfortable process of toying with his challenger in a scene that has grown familiar to mixed martial arts followers. However, his taunting caught up to him early in the second round, as Weidman floored and finished him at the feet of referee Herb Dean.
“I felt I was destined for this, but it still felt a little far-fetched,” Weidman said. “I imagined it a billion times, but it still feels surreal. Ray Longo brought in guys in my camp to play with me and do things to mess with my head. It pisses me off when someone tries to do that to me. I knew little by little I was going to creep up on him and then eventually get him. No one is invincible.”
The loss was Silva’s first legitimate defeat since December 2004 and snapped a string of 17 consecutive victories. The 38-year-old Brazilian had never before been stopped by strikes.
“I was convinced Chris could do something to shock the world and beat Anderson Silva,” submission coach John Danaher told Fighters Only magazine. “People don’t realize that in order to do something great you yourself have to be great. You have to have the seeds of greatness inside you to perform great actions.”
After initially balking at the idea, Silva agreed to a rematch. His second encounter with Weidman yielded far more catastrophic results for “The Spider.”
Silva’s bid to reclaim the middleweight crown ended with a horrific leg injury, as Weidman kept his hold on 185-pound gold with a second-round technical knockout in the UFC 168 headliner on Dec. 28 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Silva, his leg broken above the ankle when the champion checked his kick, collapsed to the mat 76 seconds into round two, his writhing in shock followed by cries of agony.
“Ray Longo actually broke a guy’s leg like that in the gym by putting the knee right on that shin when he kicked, just by following [the kick] up slowly,” Weidman said. “It’s not really going shin-to-shin, but getting your knee on the shin. I’ve done it in sparring with some hard kickers to let them know not to kick me anymore. Their legs didn’t break, but they would either take a minute to walk it off or they wouldn’t be kicking me as much. It’s something I’ve definitely been working on, thanks to Longo.”
Weidman nearly finished it in the first round, as he rocked Silva with a right hand in close quarters, trailed him to the canvas and battered him with punches and elbows.
“There was a point where I was hoping the ref would stop the fight,” he said, “but he recovered well.”
Silva weathered the attack, landed some effective shots from the bottom and pushed their rematch to a second round. There, a little more than a minute after the battle resumed, he uncorked the ill-fated kick. An audible snap brought an eerie silence to what had been a raucous crowd and perhaps marked the end of the line for arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history.
“When he landed that kick on my knee, I knew I had checked it [well],” said Weidman. “I thought he would at least be in pain, but when he put his foot back down, and I saw his leg roll up, I knew the fight was over and he wouldn’t get back up. It was a crazy ending.”
One can only surmise that this may have been the last time “The Spider” will compete inside the cage. Silva turns 39 in April. He underwent surgery to repair the damage in the hours immediately following the fight.
“The successful surgery, performed by Dr. Steven Sanders, the UFC’s orthopedic surgeon, inserted an intramedullary rod into Anderson’s left tibia,” Zuffa officials said in a release. “The broken fibula was stabilized and does not require a separate surgery. Anderson will remain in the hospital for a short while, but no additional surgery is scheduled at this time. Recovery time for such injuries may vary between three and six months.”
His two-fight series against Silva now in the rearview mirror, Weidman turns his attention to the other challengers lurking in the middleweight division. A showdown with a resurgent Vitor Belfort figures to occupy his time during the first half of 2014.
“Vitor has been out there taking on all comers, and he’s next in line,” UFC President Dana White said. “No doubt about it.”
Serra does not see Weidman relinquishing his title anytime soon.
“This is the beginning of his story,” Serra told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show. “He could be a very dominant champion. He could be one of those guys that go down as one of the greatest.”
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