Ray Longo has been here before. The famed coach of and alongside Matt Serra knows what this feels like. Actually, that's not quite true and depends on your definition of what 'here' means. If it implies getting the butterflies in the stomach as a coach and cornerman heading into a title fight with an underdog born and bred from his home of Long Island, New York, then yes, this isn't new. He's been here.
Yet, if 'here' means walking into those same circumstances, but this time with a young, prodigious talent whose best career exploits lay ahead of him and who other fighters recognize as a deeply serious threat even to the greatest fighter ever, then maybe he's never been here at all.
"This one feels different," Longo told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour about Chris Weidman's Saturday title fight against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 162. "The nervous energy is there. It's another championship fight, but I think you were saying before with Matt [Serra, against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69 in 2007], no one gave him a chance. Walking in there, he was the biggest underdog in UFC history. This kid [Weidman], a lot of fighters are saying he's going to win and they see something in him that I guess a lot of people are missing.
"It's similar, but I think that's the biggest difference. It's that Matt was really given no chance and that was fueling the fire. This time the kid just believes in himself and this is what he wanted his whole life. He's worked hard. I believe he's earned it. He's got the accolades to back everything up. We're all excited about it."
And why wouldn't they be? According to Longo, camp has gone exceedingly well. It was organized, long, disciplined and comprehensive. Specialists from all disciplines were brought in. Best of all, Weidman is injury free.
That doesn't mean there aren't doubters and doubts even among the faithful. Weidman's ascension has been non-linear and unexpected. Just as importantly, for a fighter who is relatively lacking in experience for this kind of main event, can he handle all the pressure?
"I think so, but again, I think it's a well-taken comment," Longo explained. "I think you really don't know the magnitude. Even when he fought [Alessio] Sakara, it was on two-weeks' notice and he had a banged up rib and you are going to be in the UFC. He passed that test pretty good, so it's not like he's unaware of fighting in the UFC or being in the big show for the first time. He's kinda gotten a glimpse of it, so I think if he stays in the moment and understands what's going on he'll have no problem with that at all."
Longo says the game plan before the fight is simple: never get too high, never get to low, understand what you're here to do and live in each moment, not a second before.
"We're going to stay in the moment," he explained. "The weigh-ins the weigh-in. That's all it is. He's there to fight. He's there to win and that's it. He's not there to get in a spitting contest with this guy or do any other things that are stupid. He wants to go in there and fight the best guy in the world, which is what he's doing. I think he's really excited to test himself."
Even if Weidman can handle the pressure, Longo is sympathetic to those who aren't sure about Weidman's abilities. After all, he's done well enough in the UFC thus far, but never had a true break out moment. And only a handful of people are privy to the details of a training camp, so how can they really share his confidence?
Longo isn't bothered by it and believes by the time the fight is over, people will understand why he's got such a strong belief in his pupil.
"Can a 40-year old man stop this young, talented, strong, huge, technical, confident kid from dumping him on his head? That's the way I look at it. This guy is a beast. I think the age might play a little factor in this. I'm not sure there's a guy in the United States that could stop [Weidman] from putting him on his head at that age.
"He's that good, Ariel. He really is," Longo continued. "It's not just bulls--t. He's technical, strong, he's confident. He's got the attributes that it takes to win this fight and I think everyone knows if that fight hits the ground, it's going to be a different story."
So confident is Longo that there hasn't been a challenge he could throw at Weidman that the Hofstra University wrestler couldn't overcome in camp. It's been a measurement on his part and what he believes he's discovered in a threat in the middleweight division Silva's never seen before.
"We've put him in there with pro boxers, southpaw, 6'1". He's passed the test, so he deserves to be here. Everybody's going to find out something on July 6th. I don't know who is going to be more surprised in the Octagon: Anderson Silva or Chris, but he's not going to be mentally defeated before he goes in there. He's got the flight time now to get what he wants.
"This guy is no joke," Longo says matter of factly. "I just believe the guys [Silva]'s been beating aren't on Chris' level, standing up or on the floor."
It's hard to make sense of someone's confidence when he's relying on a talent with only nine fights to prove a nearly seven-year win streak to be the by-product of facing lesser competition. But that's where Longo is and in his mind, not a slight or oversight. It's simply a recognition, to him, of what he's known all along.
For Longo, his confidence stems from the eureka moment he had from the instant he saw Weidman in action nearly fours ago. To the famed Long Island trainer, he's been sitting on a gold mine for years. Only now is he ready to cash it in. "I think from the first day I met him I knew there was something different about him," Longo recalled. "I'd never seen anybody do the things he did and I think it's all going to come to fruition on July 6th."