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UFC on FOX 25 Aftermath: Chris Weidman’s redemption

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If you watched the final seconds of the opening round of Chris Weidman’s UFC on FOX 25 main event against Kelvin Gastelum and thought “here we go again,” you weren’t alone.

The former UFC middleweight champion’s well-documented, three-fight losing streak had largely been a tale of “he was winning the fight until he wasn’t.”

Each loss brought a unique twist of the knife. There was the ill-advised, fight-changing spinning back kick in the title loss to Luke Rockhold. The poorly timed takedown that led to a knockout knee against Yoel Romero. The confusing blur of events which led to a controversial loss to Gegard Mousasi.

When Gastelum dropped Weidman with a left hand in the closing seconds of the opening round at his hometown Nassau Coliseum -- after Weidman had dominated the round — it seemed like we were witnessing a coda on Weidman’s run as an elite competitor. His woozy demeanor as he went back to the corner after the horn sounded didn’t raise confidence either.

But this time, there would be no fold. This time, Weidman got it back together. The former champ didn’t panic, calmly went back to his game plan, and slowly picked apart Gastelum until he found the opening to finish the fight and savor the sort of home-arena celebration of which most fighters can only dream.

Weidman, of course, isn’t the first fighter to hit a career rough patch. But as he pointed out, his period of adjustment came at a different career point than most fighters who reach the top experience.

“People forget, I was 9-0, I was fighting Anderson Silva,” Weidman said at the post-fight press conference. “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.”

Weidman had some choice words for UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping after his victory. Granted, everyone seems to have choice words for Bisping, and Weidman isn’t the first in line for the champ no matter how impressive his victory last night.

But the middleweight landscape has changed dramatically over the past few months, from the rise of Robert Whittaker to losses by Jacare Souza and Yoel Romero to the departure of Gegard Mousasi. Weidman might not be at the top of the heap again. But he’s right back in the mix in a rapidly changing environment. And considering how things were looking toward the end of the first round, that’s a pretty solid place to be.

UFC on FOX 25 quotes

“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.” -- Weidman on getting rocked by Gastelum.

“I’m the champ. I’m the best guy in the world, and I think people know that.” -- Weidman, who is 1-3 in his past four fights.

“The grind is my game, and those are the fights I’m going to succeed in. It’s not the prettiest stuff sometimes, but I make it work, and I make it work good.” -- Darren Elkins, on getting past Dennis Bermudez for his fifth consecutive victory.

“What I want next is either to fight T.J. for an interim belt if Cody [Garbrandt] is still hurt, or get [Dominick] Cruz off the bench and let’s fight,” -- Jimmie Rivera takes aim at the top of the bantamweight division.

Stock report

Down: Kelvin Gastelum If Gastelum had landed that big left hand with a minute left in the opening round instead of the round’s waning seconds, who knows? We very well might be talking about Gastelum’s ascension as a legit middleweight contender. Instead, we’re looking at a fight in which Gastelum was mostly ragdolled by a bigger and stronger opponent. Gastelum’s conundrum has long been that he’s a bit too big for welterweight and a bit too small for the larger, elite middleweights. Can you picture Gastelum faring any better against Rockhold or Romero than he did against Weidman? We all may have let out a collective groan when Gastelum said after the fight that he wants to go back down to 170, but if he’s serious about doing it right this time (and that’s not the first time we’ve said this), then maybe he deserves the chance.

Up: Jimmie Rivera It’s been nearly a year since his dominant win over Urijah Faber, but in case you forgot what he can do, Rivera picked up right where he left off. Rivera frustrated Thomas Almeida with his effortless ability to dodge punches and counter. He was efficient and precise with his strikes. It wasn’t a perfect performance -- Almeida tagged him a few times as the fight went on -- but it was enough to convince skeptics that he deserves a shot at once of the bantamweight division’s top dogs. While there’s no doubt going to be plenty of wrangling and angling about who will fight whom, Rivera’s earned the spot.

Up: Patrick Cummins If there’s one current competitor in MMA’s big leagues who may have missed his calling as a fighter in the one-night tournaments of the sport’s early days, it very well may be Cummins. A throwback sort of scrapper, there are glaring flaws in Cummins’ game, but he is all heart, determination, and toughness. I’m not sure how much longer his game plan of shaking off an early beating and waiting for his opponents’ gas tank to empty will hold up, but he managed to do it once again Saturday against Gian Villante. And in doing so, just months after being all but written off, he’s now won two straight and is 6-3 in his past nine.

Up: Marlon Vera Maybe we should nickname Vera “The Spoiler.” In back-to-back fights, Vera first ruined Brad Pickett’s retirement fight with a third-round knockout, then derailed the Brian Kelleher hype train with a slick first-round armbar in Kelleher’s hometown fight for his sixth career submission. But then, while we could make a gimmick out of Vera’s propensity for ruining other’ big days, he doesn’t seem to need one, not after three straight wins and a 4-1 record in his past five fights.

Interesting stuff

We just got through an entire fight week overseen by the New York State Athletic Commission without any controversies, fiascos, or utter embarrassments. That’s as rare as a New York Jets victory. Let’s take our W and get out of town.

Fight I’d like to see next: Chris Weidman’s next step

So, here’s where the obvious next fight for Weidman would have been a runback of his controversial UFC 210 loss to Gegard Mousasi. But in their infinite wisdom, WME bean counters who wouldn’t know a Kimura from a kale salad let Mousasi walk to Bellator. So what do you do next? Weidman’s Bisping callout was optimistic at best, although stranger things have certainly happened. Rockhold is fighting David Branch in a Fight Night main event which is not going to crash Ticketmaster’s servers. Whittaker is injured, and presumably going to fight Bisping next anyway. That leaves, for now, Romero and Jacare Souza. Romero thought. Souza has indicated he wants to return before the end of the year. Everything else considered, Weidman vs. Jacare is as good as anything at the moment.

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