Following wins over a pair of former title contenders in Volkan Oezdemir and Ovince Saint Preux, undefeated light heavyweight Dominick Reyes knew he was inching closer and closer to title contention.
Reyes came to the UFC as a highly touted prospect, and thus far, he’s lived up to the billing with five straight wins while climbing up the ranks at 205 pounds.
This weekend at UFC on ESPN 6, Reyes faces a different kind of test. He’s taking on former middleweight champion Chris Weidman, who’ll be making his first appearance in the light heavyweight division.
On paper, Reyes could have easily shot down this fight, instead requesting a higher-ranked and more well-established opponent in his own weight class. But he didn’t hesitate to accept Weidman when he saw that name on the other end of his bout agreement.
“The thing with Chris Weidman, this is the trade off with this fight,” Reyes told MMA Fighting. “I have the ranking, I have the skills — he has the name. That’s what he’s bringing to the table. He’s bringing name recognition. He beat Anderson Silva. He was the middleweight champ for a good amount of time.
“So with this fight, what I gain is I beat a big name, a worldwide name, and I’m more marketable. It’s name versus record at this point.”
Weidman enters this fight at a crossroads in his career. After dethroning the longest reigning middleweight champion in UFC history with a 2013 knockout of Anderson Silva, he went onto defend the 185-pound title three more times to improve his record to 13-0.
But then, Weidman lost the title to Luke Rockhold via fourth round TKO in 2015, and he’s only earned a single victory over the past three years. Add to that all four of Weidman’s career losses have come by knockout, and now he’s moving up to a bigger division where the fighters undoubtedly hit harder than middleweights.
Despite a 1-4 record in his past five fights, Reyes isn’t looking past Weidman as if he’s washed up. Because oddly enough, he’s faced a lot of criticism of his own after he went to scorecards in two consecutive fights after finishing eight of his first nine opponents.
“Regardless of what anybody says, he’s no joke,” Reyes said about Weidman. “I don’t know what’s going on with the MMA media and Twitter and they’re just writing everybody off now.
“People are quick to write people off. Even myself, they’re trying to write me off, and I won!”
Knowing that Weidman’s back is against the wall heading into this fight only serves to make him that much more of a threat, because the former middleweight champion is probably going to do whatever it takes to get a win.
That’s why Reyes is already preparing for the potential that the New York native will attempt to grind him into the canvas for the better part of five rounds. It’s Weidman’s path of least resistance in order to secure a victory.
“I know what’s going to happen: He’s going to shoot on me,” Reyes said. “He’s going to try to take me down. I don’t know if he’s going to try to manhandle me, because he can’t – I’m much bigger than him. But he’s going to try to control me. Honestly, I’m expecting a shot, (and) I’m expecting takedown attempts.
“All of a sudden, I don’t have takedown defense because Volkan [Oezdemir] took me down, but he never shoots ever, and he caught me. He caught me slipping, but I know it’s coming with Weidman same way I knew it was coming with OSP (Ovince Saint Preux), and he couldn’t take me down. I was ready for it.”
In return, Reyes fully intends on testing Weidman’s chin to find out if he can still take a punch after four knockouts in his past five fights.
“For me, I just want to put hands on him, period,” Reyes said. “Whether his chin holds up or not, that remains to be seen, but I’m going to put a lot of hurt on this guy. I’m going to hurt him. He’s going to feel a lot of pain. I’m not here to play or just to score points. I want to hurt him.”
Reyes can’t predict if this fight will send Weidman packing back to 185 pounds. But he absolutely plans on giving him a rude welcome to light heavyweight.
“Jared Cannonier came down from heavyweight, fought me at light heavyweight and said you guys are way too big and too strong, I need to go down to middleweight,” Reyes said.
“So we’ll see what Weidman says. I’m bringing everything.”