Chris Weidman always knew he'd end up fighting Luke Rockhold, he just didn't expect to wait so long. The UFC's reigning middleweight champion is slated to put his belt on the line Dec. 12 against Rockhold in the co-main event of UFC 194. It's a match-up even Weidman admits has been a long time coming, and now that it's finally official, all bets are off.
"I'm excited to go out there and just really run through Luke," Weidman said Monday on The MMA Hour. "I just really cannot imagine myself losing to him. I know he'll talk the same way, but I think he's just kind of faking it. I don't think he really believes he can beat me, but he knows what to say.
"These guys know in the weight (class), I think they're starting to get it. And he's one of the guys who knows. I think he's a little insecure about himself, and I feel like that's why he has to pump his chest up all the time and go a little overboard. I think he's just insecure and I think he knows what's coming. I think he'd much rather be fighting anyone else besides me."
The match-up presents one of the most fascinating stylistic title clashes in recent memory. With his rangy striking and slick submission work, Rockhold has looked nigh unstoppable on his climb back to contention. His recent mauling of Lyoto Machida served as the exclamation mark to a four-fight win streak that saw the former Strikeforce champion finish a quartet of ranked opponents, all inside the first or second rounds.
Likewise, Weidman's reign of dominance over the UFC middleweight division has been as electric as it has been decisive since the New Yorker dethroned Anderson Silva with a pair of stunning victories in 2013. Weidman dispatched another pair of Brazilian legends in Machida and Vitor Belfort in his latest title defenses -- the latter of which took less than three minutes -- and like Rockhold, he appears to be hitting his prime as he rides into one of the most anticipated events of the year.
"We came up, we were both prospects together around the same time. I was usually No. 1, he was always kind of No. 2 or No. 3 coming up. And I know he's had his eye on me," Weidman said of Rockhold.
"This is not a fight that I can allow to go the distance with the judges. I have such a great opportunity here to run through him and truly make, I think, more of a final statement in this division. He's beaten a good part of the division. I've beaten a good part of the division. I think after this fight, the question marks are gone. And I think it's going to be a huge part of my career, a huge part of my legacy, this fight. I know that, and I just have to run through him. Absolutely run through him."
Weidman and Rockhold have always maintained a friendly rivalry of sorts, with the pair trading good-natured trash talk on FOX Sports 1 after Rockhold's latest victory over Machida. Those barbs continued as Rockhold waited to find out whether he or Ronaldo Souza would get the next title shot -- Rockhold's teammate Daniel Cormier even got into the mix and ghostwrote a few tweets.
But while the cheekier side of the game has rarely been Weidman's modus operandi, the champion has never been shy to speak his mind, either. He called out Belfort repeatedly for the Brazilian's history of PED abuse before UFC 187, and after demolishing Belfort in less than a round, Weidman called out his detractors in a memorable "join the team" post-fight speech.
That confidence now carries over into Dec. 12. It's not lost on Weidman that for a second straight fight, he's been relegated to the co-main event. Just like UFC 187 was headlined by Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson, a long-awaited featherweight grudge match between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor is scheduled to headline UFC 194. This time though, Weidman more than happy to share the stage.
Aldo-McGregor is projected by many experts to be the biggest fight of the year, if not the biggest fight in UFC history. Weidman gets pay-per-view points on his UFC contract, so he admits he'll be making "good money" once the final numbers come in.
And just like UFC 189, when McGregor shouldered the lion share of the event's promotion while Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald relished their roles in the background, Weidman will be able to focus his attention solely on defeating the man many believe to be his toughest stylistic test.
"The good thing is that [Rockhold] has no idea what I'm bringing to the table for this fight," Weidman said. "I could just stand and try to knock him out. I could take him down and submit him. He has no idea what I'm going to bring, and that excites me. And I really could go either direction. I feel like if I wanted to, I could stand and knock him out. And I feel like if I wanted to, I could take him down and submit him. So I just feel like I have such a great opportunity no matter where this fight goes.
"It's just a really exciting fight, and he's a talented kid, so it's going to look good. I'm going to look good doing it. Sometimes you fight sloppy guys and it doesn't look as good. But this kid, he's athletic, he's good looking, he's got a great body, and it's going to be fun beating him up."