For Chris Weidman, winning a UFC bout inside Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, N.Y., ranks up there with the most significant accomplishments of his professional career. And yes, that includes capturing middleweight gold against one of the sport’s pound-for-pound greats some four years ago.
“Indescribable…..This is a surreal feeling, a moment I could have never imagined,” Weidman said. “This feels like I won a championship.”
Of course, Weidman didn’t win a championship in the UFC on Fox 25 headliner on Saturday night. However, he did snap a three-fight winning streak with a third-round submission of Kelvin Gastelum, an opponent who had looked impressive since moving up to 185 pounds. Not only did the Serra-Longo Fight Team product quiet some doubters with the victory, but he did so in a venue that was near and dear to his heart.
“I grew up five minutes down the road,” Weidman said. “I passed this stadium every day of my life. I literally saw kids I went to elementary school with on the way to the Octagon [tonight].”
That’s why the moment was more meaningful than when Weidman was part of the UFC’s Madison Square Garden debut late last year, or the promotion’s journey to Buffalo in April. While neither of those Octagon appearances resulted in victory for the “All American,” he learned how to better handle himself while fighting in his home state.
“I think the experience of fighting in New York a couple of times really helped me,” he said. “The other fights I wanted to take it in and enjoy it, like suck the energy from the crowd. On my way out there I wasn’t slapping hands. I was focused, I stayed relaxed and composed.”
That composure proved valuable in the opening stanza, as Weidman was dropped by a Gastelum left hand in the waning seconds. While Gastelum claimed he could have finished the fight if he had another 30 seconds, Weidman doesn’t think the situation was quite that dire.
“I’m pretty sure I got right up. He hit me with a shot and my legs gave out, but I was composed. I was ready to get punched in the face all night long. I was ready to get knocked off my feet,” Weidman said. “I was prepared. Obviously Kelvin is a tough dude and he has a lot of belief in himself, but tonight wasn’t his night.”
Other than that moment, Weidman was largely in control. His size and strength advantages were evident as he outgrappled his opponent before setting up the fight-ending submission. Still, Weidman wasn’t about to sell Gastelum short because of his size.
“I feel like I’m stronger than a lot of these guys. The thing with him is he’s very good. He fought Tim Kennedy, who’s one of the best grappling guys in this sport, a guy who crushed Michael Bisping,” Weidman said. “Kelvin went out there and crushed Tim Kennedy. At no point was I saying to myself, this kid’s weak and I’m going to run through him. He’s a problem at 185 and he’s a real problem at 170 too.”
While Weidman is unlikely to be in the middleweight title discussion after snapping a three-fight skid, it’s clear that he has his eyes on a showdown with Michael Bisping. And despite his recent struggles, Weidman doesn’t lack for confidence.
I know I’m the best in the world. Bisping has been running. He did a great job; he got the belt. I gave him that shot and since then he hasn’t fought anybody that’s the No. 1 contender,” Weidman said. “He’s got injuries. He’s been running. I don’t know what he’s doing. I’m the champ, I’m the best in the world, people know that. If Bisping has some balls, that fight will happen.”
Regardless of how things play out, it wasn’t all that long ago that Weidman was regarded as one of the top talents in the sport, not just the middleweight division. Saturday represented a big step for him in getting back to that position.
“People forget I was 9-0 and I was fighting Anderson Silva. I was fighting the best guys this sport has ever seen when I had no experience,” he said. “I hit adversity when I was on top of the word…..the only people that believed in me was Long Island, my family and my coaches.”