Neither Chris Weidman nor Vitor Belfort are concerned about their extended layoffs. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It’s been quite some time since UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman last climbed into the Octagon for battle. It’s been almost twice as long for Vitor Belfort. Both men will finally be able to peel off some of the cage rust and get down to business.
Weidman and Belfort will square off in the co-main event of UFC 187 inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas next Saturday. Weidman will defend his middleweight crown for only the second time after snatching it away from then-ruler Anderson Silva back in July 2013. The two were supposed to lock horns previously, but an injury to Weidman and Belfort’s TRT issues have curtailed the showdown.
Finally, the two can settle the score and keep the 185-pound weight class moving forward, but there was some doubt as to whether this showdown would ever materialize.
Weidman had similar concerns.
“Probably at some point I was worried [the fight wouldn’t occur] because there was talks of an interim title and him possibly fighting someone else,” Weidman said during a conference call. “But this guy is on a three-fight winning streak; people tend to forget about that because of his long layoff. But I expect to be facing the best Vitor Belfort. I knew that at some point we were going to face each other. It was inevitable.”
Belfort, a legend who has been fighting in the UFC longer than anybody else currently signed to the organization, didn’t want to talk about his issues outside of the Octagon and said that he’s been patiently waiting for another opportunity at a world title.
“I’ve just been training and keeping my mind focused on what I can do,” the Brazilian bomber said. “I wasn’t worried about what I couldn’t do and I’ve been evolving every day. It’s all about perspective [taking negative and turning it into a positive]. I’m blessed. How many guys from my era are still around?”
Despite all of the hiccups along the way, the defending champ said he never took his sights off of “The Phenom.”
“Vitor has always been in the back of my mind since this all started going down,” Weidman said. “With all this time off, it’s all about self-improvement, to create a better (me) and that’s what I’ve been working on. I’m trying to be the best in the world at wrestling, at jiu-jitsu, at boxing, and then to be able to put everything together is so much to learn every day. I’ve just been trying to improve on every aspect of my life.”
Weidman has certainly earned his shot at the title and has proven himself by defending it twice. But some critics have shown dismay at Belfort still getting a crack at the gold despite his history of elevated testosterone levels, a product of a TRT regimen that was legal at the time.
Weidman scoffed at the notion and dismissed it as old hate.
“I think he deserves it,” he said. “If you watch his last three fights, he knocked out three different studs, three top guys in the world. He went through everything he went through and took all this time off but he deserves it. He’s very dangerous opponent and I’m prepared for it.”
One of the key words throughout the entire conference call was “layoff,” but neither fighter seems overly concerned about the time on the shelf. In fact, both Belfort and Weidman believe the lengthy delays and constant postponements have benefitted their overall game.
“I’m very positive,” Belfort said. “I could choose to be negative or positive and I choose to be positive. I’ve been doing this for so long; 19 years ago I became champion of the UFC by winning the tournament. I think it’s a blessing. It all depends on how you deal with it and how you face trials like this. I believe it makes you stronger.”
Weidman acknowledged that it is merely a part of the sport: “We’re in a tough sport; we’re always kind of coming back from injuries,” he remarked. “It’s like my wrestling background where you get hurt and then become stronger from it. I hurt my ribs but they healed pretty fast. I had no issues in training camp with the ribs, and I’m not worried about my ribs or any ring rust.”
Both middleweights are confident of victory, but the New Yorker was more vocal about proving a point. Belfort said he expects their fight to become one of the best championship bouts ever, but “All American” indicated that his goal is destruction, to leave no doubt as to whom the better man is.
“My goal every time out is to try and separate myself from the division and make a statement to the world,” Weidman said. “I like to prove to myself where my abilities are and [see] what my coaches think. I’m ready for this fight to make a statement and I’m looking for a finish.
“I’ve been off for a while and I have been working on a lot of things,” he added. “I have a lot of new techniques, many new magic tricks to bring to this game. I’m excited and comfortable enough to try them out in the Octagon. I’ve been practicing them a lot in sparring and in training, to bring it to another level, and I want to do it front of millions when a lot’s on the line.”