If all goes according to plan, Chris Weidman will be a new fighter on Friday.
The former UFC middleweight champion is moving up to 205 pounds for the first time, and even though he has just one win in the previous four years, there’s reason to believe he’s just one impressive performance away from turning his fortunes around.
He’ll be in for a tough fight against Dominick Reyes, a rising light heavyweight contender who’s a perfect 11-0 as a pro with five straight wins in the Octagon. But Weidman is no stranger to tall tasks, having fought Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Kelvin Gastelum, Gegard Mousasi, Yoel Romero, and Luke Rockhold in his past five fights.
Although it’s been an ugly stretch for the 35-year-old Weidman, who of those five only managed to beat Gastelum after 13 straight victories, his coach Ray Longo prefers to think the “All-American” isn’t far from his peak, and that removing a brutal weight cut from the equation can only help him.
“He was doing good in all those fights, and it’s hard to tell if that was the difference,” Longo told MMA Fighting when asked if his team ever felt he should move to light heavyweight sooner. “So we’re going to find out (on Friday). I don’t want to believe it was the difference, but it could have been, it definitely could have been. At this stage where these guys are at, every fight is a big fight, you’re fighting the top guys, and things have to be squared away.
“You see champions lose, a guy like Rashad Evans, (and) there’s a lot of guys who just can’t get back on track (like) Johny Hendricks. Mentally it’s very, very tough. Everybody tries going up, going down, so I think this is gonna be a big move for Chris, and I’m excited about it and we’ll see what happens.
“I don’t know with those other fights if it was the weight thing, (but) it very well could have been. Here’s one thing that’s a fact: Cutting weight is not good for you. I don’t give a s*it who you are. Some guys deal with it better, but there’s no way frying your body like that is good.”
Weidman hasn’t competed heavier than 185 pounds since before his UFC days. He joins a number of notable middleweights moving up a division, including past opponents Jacare and Rockhold. “Jacare” has yet to make his light heavyweight debut, and Rockhold fared poorly in his, suffering a second-round knockout loss to Jan Blachowicz in July. Fellow middleweight transplants Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos became title contenders after jumping to 205 pounds.
It’s unclear whether Weidman will end up on the same track as Smith or Santos, or if he ends up like his old rival Rockhold. His coach is confident that at the very least, Weidman is more likely to enter fight night in better health, which is an important factor given the fighter’s past injury woes.
“He’s always kind of talked about [moving to light heavyweight], so I don’t remember when it first came up,” Longo said. “I’m excited to see how he feels at 205, I think it’s gonna make a big difference. He’s looking great now, and he’s not gonna have to kill his body to get to 205.
“As these guys get older that becomes an issue. You can have an injury that feels good when you start making weight, you dehydrate your body and all of a sudden injuries rear (their) ugly head, so I’m excited to see what happens with him. Right now, he looks good, (and) he feels good.”
It’s not just a change of scenery for Weidman, who’s stated his intention to become the first man to earn a true victory over current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. It’s a boast that’s made for an eye-catching headline, even if it’s something that Longo doesn’t want to begin to discuss in earnest until they see how Weidman fares against Reyes.
“I don’t even bring it up, because I want to concentrate on Dominick Reyes, and that’s the conversation we have anytime it comes up,” Longo said. “He’s got one goal, to get by Dominick Reyes, (and) then I’m open to anything.”
Weidman fights Reyes in the main event of UFC on ESPN 6 this Friday at TD Garden in Boston.