During the extended Dark Ages when the UFC was still lobbying to get into New York (all the way back in 2015), Chris Weidman was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the game. He lost his middleweight title late that year against Luke Rockhold out in Las Vegas, and at that time it felt almost like an aberration. Then his home state finally legalized MMA in 2016. That’s when he stopped taking airplanes to work.
And that’s when the spiral of losses truly began.
How cruel can the fight game be? After Saturday night’s brutal knockout loss against Ronaldo Souza, the man who did the most to sell Albany on sanctioning MMA in New York has gone 1-3 at home. The 34-year-old Weidman had a day named for him in Nassau County after defeating Anderson Silva the first time; now he’s trying to figure out if he should move up to light heavyweight and reinvent himself. Or even how long he wants to stick around the grim leather trade.
What’s even harsher is that Weidman did everything perfect for his fight with “Jacare.” In the last couple of years he has slimmed down so that his weight cuts wouldn’t be as extreme, and he was in fantastic shape this time through. The first blow was that his original opponent, Luke Rockhold, had to withdraw from the fight just a couple of weeks beforehand. Not wanting to miss out on fighting against at Madison Square Garden, Weidman happily agreed to face Souza as a replacement and — really — it was all going brilliantly. It really was. Weidman’s movement was right on, and he was landing at will in the first round. There was snap on the jab, and intent in the power shots. He bloodied Jacare’s nose, and seemed to be cruising towards making the middleweight title picture a very complicated affair.
Even in the second round, when Jacare continued moving forward with a preternatural kind of resiliency, slamming his right hand into Weidman’s ribcage again and again, you got the sense that Weidman was bearing it fine. He was up on two of the judge’s scorecards 20-18, and the vibe at the Garden was fairly triumphant. Weidman was finally on course to get that victory at Mecca, which — if you’ve paid attention to his endearing brand of homerism over the years — meant everything.
Then he got cracked with that short right hand, and his eyes rolled back in his head. The referee, Dan Miragliotta didn’t see that part, he just saw the body fall. He waited for Jacare to finish a fight that was long over. After a mercy-seeking moment in which he realized he was being asked to do more, Jacare dropped a couple of hammerfists on Weidman, and that was that. The lingering image of Weidman’s second ruined homecoming at MSG was a couple of unnecessary shots crashing into his already unconscious head. The first image was of being knockout out by Yoel Romero at UFC 205. Neither piece of footage will be a hit on Long Island.
Weidman’s latest loss was a reminder of how quickly it can all go south in the fight game. It was emblematic of Weidman’s career: Things were going along just fine until they weren’t. For a bit there it felt like he couldn’t lose. His come back victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 187 gave evidence that even when he was facing real adversity he knows just what to do. Then Rockhold gave him a taste of mortality seven months later. And since then mortality has stuck to him like caution tape.
BJ Penn’s sudden fall came in the form of Frankie Edgar after he’d won five of six fights between 2007-2009. Penn never recovered from the first Edgar loss out in Abu Dhabi. Weidman simply ran into the poetics of fighting at home. He has fought four times in front of his fellow New Yorkers, and has been knocked out three times. Has his chin gone? Does he still want it? Is there more to prove? Back when he lost to Gegard Mousasi at UFC 210 in Buffalo, Weidman said it was difficult to absorb all the negativity that comes with a three-fight losing streak. After he beat Gastelum on Long Island, he looked not only relieved but reborn. Had he beat Jacare, he was right there at the top of the heap ready for a title.
It didn’t go his way.
And if Weidman wants to continue on, it might be time for him to fight elsewhere. Back in Vegas, maybe, where he won four in a row before the Rockhold fight, and toppled the great Anderson Silva not once but twice. Perhaps even as a light heavyweight, where he doesn’t have to deplete his body and the rankings don’t concern him. If ever there was a time for a change, it is now; the great “All American” who did everything he could to get MMA into New York at this point would do well to get the hell out.