Chris Weidman is almost ready to return to the cage.
Weidman, a former UFC middleweight champ, has been away from competition for nearly two years following the catastrophic leg injury he suffered against Uriah Hall at UFC 261. In January, the former UFC middleweight champion announced he will return to action in March, where he faces Owen Livesey in a grappling superfight at Polaris 23. Speaking with Ariel Helwani on Monday, Weidman explained that his leg is still not quite 100 percent, and so he viewed grappling as a good way to ease himself back into competition.
“It’s been a long road,” Weidman said on The MMA Hour. “I’ve been enduring this injury and recovery. It’s been four surgeries, I’ve had infections, it’s pretty much been hell. I’ve been asked a few times to do grappling events over the years and it just never really works out time-wise. I did the Abu Dhabi [Combat Club] back in 2009, I did the trials and then I got to go to the Abu Dhabis in Barcelona, Spain, and it was a great opportunity for me. I really enjoyed it and I always felt like I’d do grappling more often because I like doing it, but obviously MMA took over and that was what I’ve been focused on.
“But because my leg is still kind of healing, there are still some things standup-wise that I’m still dealing with, some issues with pain, and I was offered this Polaris grappling match, so I go, ‘You know what, this might be a good opportunity to get into a competition, get used to competing again, not just come in with complete ring rust in my next fight when I come back to the UFC’ I just thought it was great timing.”
As Weidman noted, he’s no novice when it comes to elite grappling. He was a two-time All-American wrestler in college and won the ADCC North American trials in 2009, where he went on to have a competitive match with grappling legend Andre Galvao.
Still, Weidman’s first priority is returning to his MMA career, and after testing himself out in this grappling match, “The All-American” hopes to return to the cage this summer.
“I think probably June-ish, something like that,” he said. “Somewhere in June. I’m going to wait until after this grappling match. Get that win, focus on that, and then after that I’m going to hit up the UFC and figure it out. I still have stuff I have to figure out in my leg.”
Weidman is one of the most accomplished middleweights in UFC history, having held the title for over two years. Pushing 39 and coming off one of the worst injuries in UFC history, it’s fair to wonder why he is coming back to MMA at all. But for the former champion, it’s simple: He believes he can be the best in the world again, and he wants to prove it, meaning when he does come back, he wants to be thrown right in the deep end.
“I would say someone in the top 15,” Weidman said. “Anyone from 10-15. I was like, 12 or something when I left, so somewhere in there. I’m not coming back to be a B-rated fighter or a gatekeeper or anything like that. I went through all this hell not just to come back and be like that. I’m coming back to try and get back what is mine, try to get that belt. After analyzing all these guys and watching the middleweight division these last two years, with everybody at the top of the division, I don’t think there’s any reason I can’t beat those guys. So I’m excited to work my way up and get there. ...
“I think my skillset matches up really great with the top guys, and I’m excited to get there. I think there is a road to that. Beat someone in the top-15, and then maybe someone in the top-5 and boom, I’m there. But I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m excited for the challenge. I’m not putting myself through this crap to fight some guys I know I can beat or just have a big-name fight, I’m trying to shock the world again. I know there’s not going to be too many people who are going to be thinking I can come back and that excites me, when I’m being counted out like this.”
Weidman’s grappling match with Livesey takes place on March 11 at Doncaster Dome in Doncaster, England, and streams exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.