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Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold as second billing really makes you think

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

The build-up to Chris Weidman’s UFC 194 title defense against Luke Rockhold has been lost a little bit in Conor McGregor’s long shadow, but then again psychos (and psych majors) are rarely all that loud. The last time the Irish flooded Las Vegas to see McGregor fight was in July, back when he was supposed to fight Jose Aldo and settled for Chad Mendes. For several months of truly unparalleled chest-smiting, Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler — two infamous nontalkers — just sort of smoldered in McGregor’s orbit, hiding right there in plain sight.

Lawler and MacDonald put on the fight of 2015. The long stare-down at the end of the fourth round encapsulated the very spirit of the fight game. The thresholds were crumbling, it’s true, but they were crumbling into each other, as if to hold each other up. It was a classic moment.

And the crazy thing is that in the end it was almost as if MacDonald and Lawler didn’t want to smash each other so much as obliterate the careless misdirection of hype…as if to mutually validate, once again, the old notion that actions speak louder than words. Look at all that you ignored, that fight said. Some are willing to talk, while others are willing to die.

You get the feeling Rockhold and Weidman are a little like that.

Neither is all that great with a microphone, but both entomb profound confidence, the kind that reveals itself more in a cage than in social settings. Weidman, who earned a psychology degree from Hofstra, is never anything other than nonplussed. Before he took down Anderson Silva the first time, he was already declaring he would do it twice. He knew well beforehand there would be a rematch. He saw it all unfold long before anything happened. He believed himself into being the superior fighter before making it the case. He happily accommodated Silva on his own terms in both fights. He stood with the greatest striker the game had known and knocked him out.

That was the first time. The second time Silva shattered his shin on Weidman’s knee.

If Weidman’s sense of cool has a counterpart, it’s with Rockhold. Rockhold is psychotic when it comes to enacting exactly what it is he’s been envisioning. He trains specifically to meet his visions. He sees something — like meeting Weidman in the middle and stalking him down — it pains him to have to wait before actualizing it. We heard it on the media call when Rockhold listed, in casual detail, the things he was going to do to Weidman. His game plans are so purposefully transparent that they become deceiving. He wants you to know that he knows; he’s hoping that you knowing he knows becomes like pulling a loose thread to make the whole thing come undone.

Rockhold can’t conceive of losing. It’s why Vitor Belfort has become the bane of his existence. Weidman can’t conceive of losing, either. And in fact, he has never lost in MMA. Weidman, the long wrestler with power in both hands, the champion from the East. Rockhold, the kickboxer who can slow a fight down as if he’s at the controls of destiny, from the West.

Two cool masters of chaos in their prime. This has all the makings.

These types of encounters don’t get bogged down in talk. They quietly go about delivering. That co-main event on Dec. 12 will be a bunch of deep thoughts being put into action through supremely athletic mediums. The build-up for this one is in knowing those thoughts. Thought that manifests as faith, thought that hardens into compulsion, thought that gauges intuition, thought that becomes instinct, thought that senses every counter and reacts. Neither thinks he’ll lose.

Each has to know that one will.

Truth is, Weidman and Rockhold don’t need to say anything. Like MacDonald and Lawler, the whole story will be told through action. Let McGregor sell the event. Rockhold and Weidman are all about getting your money’s worth.

And given where Weidman and Rockhold are in their careers, and the kind of momentum they are meeting each other with, well…the matched sense of invincibility is powerful, but it can’t stand. One of them will lose. That is far more the storyline than one of them will win. Somebody will be proven delusional.

Even if it’s a table setter for the biggest featherweight fight in UFC history, a set-up like that is second to none.