New York native Chris Weidman has long been one of the prominent figures behind the UFC’s push to legalize MMA in the Empire State.
With that dream now a reality, the former middleweight champion has some business to handle on the opposite coast. Weidman is scheduled to rematch Luke Rockhold in the UFC 199 headliner at the Forum in Los Angeles on June 4. Weidman lost the 185-pound strap to the American Kickboxing Academy product via fourth-round technical knockout at UFC 194 on Dec. 12.
While Weidman is a virtual lock to be on the UFC’s first card at Madison Square Garden, the moment would be that much sweeter if gold was wrapped around his waist during his walk to the Octagon.
“The vision gets even stronger now. I had to get my belt back, but now just the fact that I’m going to get to defend my belt in Madison Square Garden in front of all of New York is crazy to even start to think about,” Weidman said during a recent conference call. “It definitely gets me more excited.”
Rockhold, of course, had a decidedly different perspective on Tuesday’s monumental news:
Glad to see NY on the menu now. Unfortunate about the timing.— Luke Rockhold (@LukeRockhold) March 22, 2016
Better for Chris I don't beat him down in his home state.— Luke Rockhold (@LukeRockhold) March 22, 2016
“Speaking for myself I’ve been fighting for seven years, and I’ve been missing out on opportunities to fight in front of my family, friends, fans here in New York. Every year you’re just hopeful and it finally happened, so it’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “It’s a dream come true for all these New York fans that don’t have to worry about buying these tickets to Las Vegas to watch New York fighters get in there or take long car rides to New Jersey.”
While there were those who argued against MMA in New York up until the last possible moment, their viewpoints were often misinformed, outdated or downright embarrassing. Still, by the time the bill reached the assembly, Weidman was confident that this was the year.
“I was pretty optimistic throughout thet whole thing. Some of these things they were saying were so ridiculous that I was actually happy and embarrassed for them for bringing it up,” he said. “There are things I’ve heard people behind closed doors might be saying, but to actually say it live and to the public was just kind of interesting and kind of good for us. I just thought it was embarrassing on their part.”
The UFC isn’t likely to hold its first event in New York until late in 2016, but promotion CEO Lorenzo Fertitta hopes to bring the Octagon to the state twice before year’s end. For Weidman, it’s simply a gift that he’s now talking about “when” instead of “if.”
“Everyone is so excited. [Whether] guys were just doing MMA for fun or exercise or competing at the pro level, everyone is just so excited,” he said. “Living in New York having to explain to people who aren’t educated on the sport why it’s illegal is just something that you get kind of sick of doing all the time. Now that’s it’s a legit sport in New York and there’s no more explaining to do, it’s a huge relief for everybody.”
I've waited a long time for today and couldn't be more excited to have MMA legal in my hometown of New York!! pic.twitter.com/uoxIpPbcQ4— Chris Weidman (@ChrisWeidmanUFC) March 22, 2016