On July 5, when Chris Weidman was still being taken for granted as "Victim 17" by a cheerful betting public, I met up with Ray Longo at a bar inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It was there that he told me in his engine-idling rasp that, hey…though anything was possible and the scenarios were even still crowding over one another in his imagination, and though Anderson Silva’s mystique had an ability to make fools of us all, and though the potential was certainly there to get "clowned"…he though that Weidman was going to knock Anderson Silva out the next night at UFC 162.
"Unequivocally," he said. Unequivocally.
It was more than the Grey Goose and grapefruit talking amid those casino blips and bloops. It was a distilled notion that had taken on the next best thing to certainty, fostered through months of toil of turmoil. Longo truly believed Weidman, who was coming back from an injury -- and near homelessness -- would knockout the greatest pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in existence.
Then the damn thing came to pass. Twenty-four hours later Weidman not only became the first new middleweight champion since 2006, but Longo turned into the Madame Blavatsky of the fight game. Weidman had knocked Silva out, just as Longo said he would. A week afterwards Weidman had a day named after him in Long Island. People were in good spirits and busting each other’s balls up and down the sound. And Longo’s clear blue eyes were full of the future.
But five months later, on the eve of the rematch, they weren’t filled with superstition. On Dec. 27, a night before the repeat, Longo stood me up for a drink to recreate the exact footsteps of the first time through, and thus tempted the very fabric of fate. (Remember, Vegas is all about such mindless gambling).
It turns out that Longo isn’t so much into traditionalizing aperitifs before a big fight as he is about ritualizing winning those big fights. Weidman won again on Dec. 28. He dominated the first round and, just like in July, the fight ended in the second. As I played no real part in it this time (and now with small doubts that I ever did), I had to ask Longo in retrospect: Did he foresee Silva breaking his fibula on a checked kick, and if so would he share any Lotto numbers that might be dancing through his head?
"I’ll tell you, the day of the fight, I was driving myself crazy in the room," Longo says. "I must have went through at least a million scenarios in my head, but that definitely wasn’t one of them. That definitely wasn’t one of them.
"It’s funny, when you’re checking kicks either guy could get hurt, that’s really the bottom line. You know if you go back to the first…you know the Flashback thing [the UFC] did? I thought it was phenomenal. [Silva’s corner] kept saying, ‘kick his knee, kick his knee!’ They were really trying to hurt Chris. I think he had a bad knee, and that was their advice, kick the knee, kick the knee. So, what we took out of the first fight, and we kind of addressed it, and we’re kind of victimized for even addressing the leg kick."
Victimized because it was a somber end to a long-enduring legacy in the UFC that at times bordered on magic. And also because, whether we like it or not, icons don’t fall gracefully from the pedestal. Silva shattered his leg on Weidman’s knee, which was gruesome, abrupt and delusion busting. Delusions are hard to let go in the fight game, even if we understand rationally that for every superman there is a piece of kryptonite finding its way towards them. (Which works the same for Weidman; the man who can beat him has already been invented).
The difference is that Silva, as he smoked Chris Leben and Rich Franklin right out of the gate, was being talked about as a "different kind of striker" whose style was a "ballet of violence." By comparison, Weidman a Long Island wrestler with nondescript dominance, is dousing old roaring flames. He’s the champion whom we’re not sure can be properly mythologized, even over a long haul.
Silva, for reasons that are obvious, is a tough act to follow.
And even if Weidman has now done twice in five months what 14 men couldn’t do once in seven years, there’s a prevailing feeling among some that seeing isn’t quite believing -- that even the second fight was more incidental than emphatic. Because of that, you can’t help but detect a cheated sense of due when discussing it with Longo.
"I’m having trouble understanding where everybody’s coming from on that," Longo says. "If Anderson landed those kicks, and Chris didn’t address them, and his body was bruised from his knee up to his ass, and he had to stop fighting -- they would have Anderson out to be a god. Nobody would have cared if Weidman’s leg was filled up with blood and he had hematomas all over the place. It’s unfortunate, but you can knock a guy out, give him a concussion, and it’s okay."
The truth is, the first round was so one-sided in Weidman’s favor that any doubt as to where things were headed in the rematch belong to Silva’s blue corner. Weidman, if we can judge for the available evidence, was already well on his way to winning one way or another.
"Unequivocally," Longo says. "Weidman had a great round, and you could probably make a case for a 10-8. You could that case because at one point in there the referee could have stopped it. You saw [Silva’s] eyes roll to the back of his head when he took the shot, then he kind of got, I want to say tangled up and Anderson held on. I think if he would have just kept falling, then his head would have probably ricocheted off the canvas again and Weidman would have had a clean shot on him and the fight would have been over again, similar to the first time."
Besides, he says, there is no such thing as a two-time fluke.
"They fought for about three rounds all told but I don’t think Anderson did more than 14 seconds worth of anything positive," Longo says. "He just got hammered -- I mean totally hammered -- in both fights. It’s crazy. Just think, you know this guy is considered the greatest of all time, he’s got such a huge following. People need something to believe in, and they put him up on a pedestal. It’s mind-blowing to me."
As Silva was writhing on the canvas holding his leg, and it dawned on people what had happened through nauseating replay, Weidman was left to celebrate his first title defense (and solidifying moment) right as Silva was suffering something worse than a loss.
Longo didn’t realize that Silva had broken his leg, either. He only knew that he hurt his leg enough to quit and -- in any event -- was ready to celebrate the victory.
"It was never really a celebration though," Longo says. "To Chris’s credit, if you look at the tape, he goes over to the Las Vegas athletic commission and makes sure that they let Anderson’s people in the ring, telling them that ‘these guys will make him feel better, let him in.’ Again, what a display of sportsmanship and professionalism. I think he just demonstrates what it’s all about. It’s a passing of the torch.
"Instead of being somber, I wish the UFC would have embraced it. And built Chris up to be the champion that he is."
Even if we came to it under increasingly strange circumstances, 2014 becomes the Weidman Era for the UFC’s middleweight division. When he faces Vitor Belfort in his next title defense, it’s Weidman who’ll wear the target. What a year. Who’d have thought that would be the case at the beginning of 2013, when Silva was 16-0 and Weidman had only nine pro fights in total?
The fight game can be so unpredictable. (Unless of course you’re Ray Longo, who from time to time knows -- unequivocally -- exactly what’s going to happen).