Faced with the ultimate career crossroads, Chris Weidman pulled off his best performance in years.
The former UFC middleweight champion overcame early adversity to halt a three-fight losing streak and submit Kelvin Gastelum with a third-round arm-triangle choke in the main event of UFC on FOX 25. The win was Weidman’s first since 2015, dating back to his title defense over Vitor Belfort, and it was made even sweeter by where it took place. In a true feel-good story, Weidman reclaimed his career as a top UFC middleweight in front of a raucous hometown crowd at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum, a venue right down the road from the native New Yorker’s childhood home.
“Indescribable, man,” Weidman said when asked about his emotions at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “It just made me think, because I was just asked a question on the way over here — what it was like to get a ‘W’ in Nassau Coliseum? She was saying that, ‘you came here as a (New York) Islander fan when you were a little kid,’ and I used to wait outside for the athletes, for the Islanders’ autographs.
“My godmother, one of my mom’s best friends, gave me a gift (when I was a kid) where, it was fabricated, it was fake, but it had the whole Nassau Coliseum with the crowd going crazy, and on the jumbotron it says, ‘the Islanders welcome Chris Weidman.’ It was fake but it was in my room since I was a little kid. And obviously to be here tonight, I think my name was probably on the jumbotron a couple of times, this is a surreal feeling, a moment I could’ve never imagined. So this is an indescribable moment. This feels like I won a championship.”
Weidman, 33, accomplished what he set out to do at UFC on FOX 25, outwrestling and out-grappling Gastelum to earn the win, however the fight wasn’t all smooth sailing for the former champion. Weidman survived a scary moment in the closing seconds of the first round when he was dropped to the canvas by a Gastelum left hand.
Weidman immediately reached for a single leg takedown and endured to the horn, then went on to dominate the rest of the fight. Nonetheless, Gastelum said afterward that he believed he could’ve finished Weidman had he been given 30 more seconds to capitalize on the moment — an assessment with which Weidman vehemently disagreed.
“He hit me with a shot, my legs gave out for a second, but I was composed,” Weidman said. “I was not being finished here tonight. That was not going to happen. That was not in the cards. I was ready to get punched in the face all night long. I was ready to get knocked off my feet. I was prepared for it all. Between rounds, I was completely fine. I focused on my breathing. I felt just as good as I felt in the beginning of the first round as I did going into the second. So, obviously Kelvin is a tough dude and he has a lot of belief in himself, but tonight wasn’t going to be the night.”
The winning performance thrust Weidman back into the thick of things at 185 pounds, a division he once reigned over as king until he suffered the only losses of his career, back-to-back-to-back, against Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero, and Gegard Mousasi.
“People forget, I was 9-0, I was fighting Anderson Silva,” Weidman said. “I was fighting the best guys this sport has ever seen, one after the other, with no experience. I hit adversity when I was at the top of the world. Most people hit adversity when they’re just at the beginning, when they’re just getting started. I hit it when everybody was watching, and everybody had comments and everybody was doubting me. It was a tough situation to be in.
“Every single one of those fights was a fight that I felt like I lost on my own, and I think I came out here and did a great job and proved it tonight.”
After his victory, Weidman took to the in-cage mic to call out UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury. Weidman doubled down on that callout in his post-fight press conference, pointing to Bisping’s unusual title reign and the fact that Bisping only got his opportunity at UFC 199 because Weidman pulled out of his rematch against Rockhold due to injury.
“I want what the people want,” Weidman said. “I know I’m the best in the world. Bisping has been running. He did a great job, he got the belt when I gave him the opportunity to get the belt. Before that, he never even had an opportunity to fight for the belt. I gave him that shot, and since then he hasn’t fought anybody that was a No. 1 contender. He’s been running, he’s got injuries, I don’t know what he’s doing.
“I’m the champ. I’m the best guy in the world, and I think people know that. And if Bisping grows some balls, that fight will happen. I know (interim champion Robert) Whittaker just did a great job winning the interim belt, but I think he’s hurt, he’s got knee surgery. I’m available, I’m ready to go. We’ll see what happens.”