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Chris Weidman 'Ready to Break Through' Middleweight Pack Towards Top of Division

Growing up in Baldwin, N.Y., Chris Weidman dreamed of being a professional athlete, but what he had in mind was far from his current job as a UFC middleweight. Weidman hoped to lace up skates and glide around the rinks of the NHL, and not as an enforcer, but as a goal-scorer. Even after a series of issues and injuries led to a move to wrestling and football, and he had been off the ice for over a decade, he still had the itch.

After Weidman had graduated from college at Hofstra, where he was a two-time Division I wrestling All-American, and before he considered mixed martial arts as a real future, he still couldn't shake that dream. Convinced it was still a possibility, he went out and bought hundreds of dollars worth of equipment, believing that with his athleticism he could wrangle a tryout from his hometown team, the New York Islanders.

"My wife thought I was nuts," said Weidman, who says he held the goal-scoring record in his PAL youth league. "Well, I pretty much was. I played for like a week-and-a-half and never used the equipment again."

It's hard to believe that hockey dreams could spawn an MMA champion, but if Weidman has his way, that's just the storyline that will eventually play out. Because even though he wasn't a hockey natural, he has certainly taken to MMA in a hurry.

Turning pro in 2009, Weidman (6-0) would be signed by the UFC within two years of his debut. To date, he's won both of his starts in MMA's top circuit, defeating Alessio Sakara on short notice his first time in the octagon before earning a guillotine submission win over Jesse Bongfeldt in his follow-up. At UFC 139, he faces Tom Lawlor.

Among the UFC weight divisions, the middleweight class might feature the most upward mobility. Current champion Anderson Silva has held the belt so long (61 months and counting) that several of the division's best (Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami and Chris Leben) have already tasted defeat at his hands. There are also hardly any young fighters breaking through. New contender candidate Mark Munoz, while fairly new to the MMA game, is 33 years old. Michael Bisping is 32. Brian Stann is 31.

That makes Weidman and Alan Belcher (both 27) the only UFC middleweights under the age of 30 that are ranked among the division's top 20. And Weidman says he's about ready to join the conversation among its very best.

"I definitely think I'm ready to break through," he said. "I'm ready to do it. There are definitely a lot of tough guys in our division. If you look at 205, there are a lot of big names. We have a lot of underrated talent that people don't know about because they don't have the exposure. But I'm ready to be that face that comes up and gets that belt.

"I just have to keep winning," he continued. "I only have two fights in the UFC, and even though I won them both, I have to keep winning. I can't be happy where I'm at. My goal has to be to get to the top. If I settle for anything less, I won't ever break through. To get to that elite level, I have to believe myself and set my goals that high."

Weidman has every reason to believe in himself. His record speaks itself, but that number is just the sum of his considerable skills, which begin with his deep wrestling background, but are nicely complemented by a rapidly improving ground game. Though Weidman is a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, that's only because he hasn't trained in a gi in two years. He regularly trains with black belts and has the reputation as a natural in the art form.

His striking is the last piece to the puzzle, and while Weidman feels he hasn't flashed it in his UFC fights, he showed it in the past, notably knocking out two of his last three opponents before signing with the UFC.

He's looked to add to his arsenal with coach Ray Longo, who helped guide Matt Serra to his memorable UFC welterweight championship win over Georges St-Pierre, and he's spent extensive time training with professional kickboxers. Recently, he flew out to San Diego and spent a week training with rising UFC light-heavyweight star Alexander Gustafsson as well.

It's a formula which he feels may pay dividends on Saturday.

"My standup has come along big time," he said. "I don't know if he'll underestimate my striking but if he does, I'll be there to make him pay for that."

Weidman is generally complimentary of Lawlor's all-around skills, mentioning that he is well-rounded with power, aggression and the fearlessness to go for the finish. He expects it to be an exciting matchup. And Lawlor is generally complimentary of Lawlor as well. But on a Monday edition of The MMA Hour, Lawlor said he hoped to exploit his perceived advantage in experience level. That is a characterization that Weidman disagreed with, citing his collegiate and international experience in wrestling.

"Every fight I've had so far, the person who I'm fighting said that," he said. "It's nothing new to me. That's fine, he can think that. I know for a fact that won't be problem. I think Alessio Sakara was more experienced than Tom Lawlor and I didn't let that get to me, so it's nothing that's going to bother me."

Weidman's confidence is boosted by his lengthy camp. After being notified of the fight back in July, he had plenty of time to prepare and improve. Now the hard work is done, and he hopes to impress and make a statement on Saturday. Unlike his past hockey dreams, this goal seems a lot more realistic.

"I'm winning but I'm far from satisfied," he said. "I just want to keep going. A lot of people think I made it. I'm not even close to where I want to be. I'm not anywhere near where I want to be yet. I've just got to keep on winning, and I'm very, very self-motivated to do that."

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