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Moments after Ronaldo Souza walked Chris Weidman down and landed a fight-ending right hand followed up by some reluctant hammer punches to satisfy referee Dan Miragliotta’s blood lust, “The All American” looked into the eyes of the attending medic and spoke three heartbreaking words: “Did I lose?”
His coaches, sensing a victory on the scorecards had been just minutes away, yowled profanities from the corner, as thousands of New York’s own did the same from the bleachers. His teammate, the affable Gian Vilante, despondently held his head in his hands.
Weidman, the blue-collar giant slayer, who once ruled the middleweight division like a benevolent despot, has lost again -- the fourth time in five outings. At home in New York, the state that Weidman tirelessly lobbied to pass legislation sanctioning MMA, he’s been victorious just once out of four attempts.
As has become customary, before the finish came, he looked to be in control of the fight, showcasing improved boxing prowess and a slick shoulder roll that nullifed much of Jacare’s early offense. But in the dying minutes of the final round, he zipped when he should have zapped, and that was all the Brazilian needed to steal the upset. The agonizing reality is that Weidman seems to keep getting better, even as his ledger is drowning in red ink.
The 34-year-old now finds himself in a calamitous position. He’s fought four of the other top five middleweights in the promotion and lost to three of them. Though he put on admirable performances before falling through the ice, there’s a hefty tax to pay for being stopped by strikes so many times. Quite apart from the very real physical risks that accompany such head trauma -- which really can’t be overstated -- there’s only so many times you can watch someone get beaten before you begin anticipating it.
In a different time, one where middleweight wasn’t entering a new golden era, it might have been feasible to send Weidman to the periphery of the top-10 or 15 to repair his image and generate some momentum. But with perhaps the most promising generation of contenders in the division’s history coming up the ranks -- including kickboxing phenom Israel Adesanya, the hulking Brazilian Paulo Costa and the resurgent Jared Cannonier -- that option is fraught with risk. If Weidman loses again, this time to an up-and-coming contender looking to add a big name to his resume, then the era of Weidman being a world-class fighter could be well and truly over.
Instead, as the title of this article implies, Weidman’s only option is to move up to 205-pounds, a division he has flirted with for the better part of five years. Back when the option was first floated, in the hazy aftermath of Weidman’s title-clinching KO victory over the mythical Anderson Silva, the idea was to launch Weidman into a super-fight with then light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones. But given the astonishing shallowness of the division, that’s not necessarily that far away-- even if Weidman has just one victory in three and a half years.
The sad fact -- one that opinion columnists for this site never stop lamenting -- is that the UFC’s light heavyweight is a wasteland, a condition attributable to causes as diverse as Bellator’s check book and the economic disincentives that MMA’s pay scale versus other professional sports create for larger athletic men.
If Anthony Smith, who struggled to break into the middleweight top 15 before moving up to light heavyweight and cracking the No.2 spot within six months, can find success in a new bracket, why shouldn’t Weidman give it a crack? It’s a train of thought that’s been popular amongst his peers, and with the impending retirement of Daniel Cormier and the probable defection of the returning Jon Jones to heavyweight if he can get past Alexander Gustafson in December, the division would be wide open for a Weidman-induced shakeup.
Of course, should he lose at 205 pounds, much less to someone on the periphery like Corey Anderson or Nikita Krylov, then the wheels will well and truly fall off. But at least a fight at 205 pounds would feel less like that oft-quoted definition of insanity dubiously attributed to Albert Einstein -- that is, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Jacob Debets is a recent law graduate who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He has been an MMA fan for more than a decade and trains in muay Thai and boxing at DMDs MMA in Brunswick. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.