While current 185-pound champ Whittaker was battling Yoel Romero for five rounds in the main event, former titleholder Chris Weidman was in attendance at the United Center watching it all go down. Whittaker defeated Romero by split decision, an outcome that was favorable for Weidman’s path to a title shot given that the New Yorker has a loss to Romero on his record.
Weidman and Whittaker have never fought, so a potential meeting between them could be considered more fresh and appealing in the eyes of UFC officials. The 33-year-old fighter has been on the shelf since last July with a hand injury, but he’s ready to return soon and can already picture how a matchup between he and Whittaker might go.
“Obviously for me, that would be best-case scenario is to fight for the title, to fight Whittaker,” Weidman said recently on The MMA Hour. “I feel like that’s a guy I match up really well against. It’s a guy, I’d go out there and I believe I could finish.
“I’m the most decorated guy in the division, I’ve had the most title defenses [since Anderson Silva]. I had a rough patch. I went undefeated my whole career, I lost one, I happened to lose three in a row. My mind, I felt like it wasn’t in the right spot. I came back and I put myself back where I needed to, got my mind back, and beat one of the top contenders Kelvin Gastelum. I felt like I dominated the fight and I went out there and finished him. So I feel like you’re only as good as your last fight and I finished the other guy that we’re talking about in my last fight. So I feel like I definitely deserve my shot at the title and that would be a good fight.”
After starting his career 13-0 with wins over the likes of Silva, Vitor Belfort, and Lyoto Machida, Weidman stumbled into a three-fight skid that he only recently put to a stop at UFC on FOX 25 with a submission of Gastelum. Despite having just one win in the last three years, the victory kept Weidman in the mix given that other contenders have since suffered key losses and rival Luke Rockhold is on his way to the 205-pound division.
Romero actually could have cemented himself as No. 1 contender with a win over Whittaker at UFC 225 (the bout was originally supposed to be for Whittaker’s belt, but Romero failed to make weight and it was changed to a non-title affair). By falling short he left the door open for Weidman to possibly challenge Whittaker next, which is one reason why “The All-American” was siding with the champ.
“I just didn’t like that Yoel didn’t make weight now twice in a row,” Weidman said. “From that perspective I thought that was wrong, unprofessional, so I was kind of leaning towards Whittaker. And then I was talking to different people. Everyone seemed to believe that if Whittaker won that was a better situation for me.”
As for why Weidman is so confident about his chances of handing Whittaker his first loss since February 2014, it’s because he happens to have a close relationship with the man who dealt Whittaker that loss: Stephen Thompson.
The two are close professionally and personally — Thompson’s brother is married to Weidman’s sister — so he wouldn’t have to go far to pick Thompson’s brain for pointers.
“(Whittaker’s) very tough, he’s elusive, got kind of like a karate-style background. But I have great training partners. I have ‘Wonderboy,’ who actually knocked him out,” Weidman said. “He’s a family member of mine and just based on that it gives me extra motivation not to lose to him when I’ve got my brother-in-law who knocked him out. How am I going to go to family functions if I go out there and lose to him? It’s definitely something that would play as motivation and give me confidence going into the fight.
“But he’s a tough guy, he’s hard to hold down. I just feel like between my striking and the way I transition into wrestling and my grappling and my jiu-jitsu, I just feel like I’m too well-rounded for him. It doesn’t matter how tough the guy is.”
Weidman hasn’t heard anything from UFC officials yet about how close he is to challenging Whittaker, who broke his hand in the first round of his fight with Romero. That’s something Weidman can relate to as he is only now feeling fully recovered from his own severe hand injury.
“My hand is great right now. … This is fused like a rock now and I feel like I can punch through a wall with this thing,” Weidman said. “It’s really, really strong. They’ve got a titanium plate in there or something stapled down with some screws and it feels amazing. So I’m ready to go, hopefully around that September, October, November time period.”
If Whittaker isn’t next for him, Weidman is open to facing another contender to bolster his resume.
“I really don’t have a problem if I really have to fight another fight before a title fight, I’m ready,” Weidman said. “I feel like I’m the best in the world, so anybody I have to beat, I gotta do it to prove myself.”