Chris Weidman: The Complete Mixed Martial Artist
At UFC 175, Chris Weidman solidified his spot as the UFC middleweight champion, and status as one of the promotions next big stars with his win over Lyoto Machida. In his short career he had become one of the more complete mixed martial artists in the UFC today. In this fight with Machida he was forced to use all elements of the sport.
This was the type of fight that revealed the greatness of both fighters to us. It was a classic one where they each had the momentum and forced the other to respond. Each time they did until the final moments of the fight. It left you wanting more and another fight between these two is coming at some point, but not right away.
It would not be good to have Weidman in another immediate rematch. Instead, let him defend against the next contender or two. While Machida picks up another couple of wins himself. In fact, if they stay healthy the rematch could take place a year from now for next year’s International Fight Week. They both could have two more fights taking care of the other immediate top middleweight contenders.
Another fight during International Fight Week sets up another U.S.A. versus Brazil title fight. It worked very well for this one and next year, if it were to play out that way next year, it would be one of the most anticipated fights of the year.
Coming into this fight we knew Weidman was a very talented fighter but we had not seen him really pushed yet. Much like Jon Jones before his fight with Alexander Gustafsson, you did not know what Weidman would do when things were going bad for him. It is what happens when you win fights so easily and dominantly.
Many fans also overlooked his striking in the Anderson Silva fights and just remember the strange endings to them. He was however winning the striking exchanges with Silva in those fights. What we learned from them was that he was a good striker that was able to seize the opening when it happened and the power to finish. We did not know what would happen as he spent more time in a fight with an experienced striker who could set him up. Could Weidman be baited into traps? Could he stay patient against someone as frustrating as Machida? Could he even go five rounds? He had only went three rounds twice in the UFC. This fight answered those and other questions. We now have an idea of how great he is right now and his potential in the sport.
Weidman has also been an evolving fighter during his UFC career and has become one of the more complete MMA fighters in the UFC. He said this himself at the post-fight press conference, “I am a mixed martial artist.” Coming into this fight he was constantly referred to as a wrestler. That led to the talk about Machida’s success against wrestlers.
It was getting annoying hearing about Machida being the wrestler killer. Yes, he has beaten several of them due in part because he has fought so many of them. In his last 12 fights, 9 have come against fighter who have wrestling bases. That goes back to his fight with Rashad Evans at UFC 98 in May of 2009.
It is not surprising to see that he has fought so many fighters with wrestling backgrounds. They have proven over the years to be some of the better fighters in MMA. The ones that use it as their base, add the other skills and become complete fighters are the ones that become champions and contenders.
The current UFC champions reflect this; Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Chris Weidman, Johny Hendricks, T.J. Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson – all have wrestling as their base. That is six of the nine current UFC champions.
The other three title holders: Ronda Rousey, Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo have added elements of it to their games. At least in the case of Pettis and Aldo who are two high level strikers who have adapted wrestling into their styles.
As for Ronda, she has her own way of dealing with wrestlers and opponents in general. That is another article in itself coming soon. Though there is something that Ronda shares with wrestlers and that is competition.
Growing up and competing in Judo, Ronda competed in a lot of tournaments and has had a lot of matches. It is the same for wrestlers. They wrestle during their seasons and they also compete in tournaments. The more you compete and battle the more comfortable you become with it. The successful ones who are mentally strong enough to get through the tournament style of formats develop that strong belief in themselves. It is a trait you see in many champions in the UFC and it is not a coincidence they are wrestlers. When you look at that list of champions they all are more than wrestlers because they have to be in today’s UFC.
Wrestling is important and always will always be in the sport but gone are the days where you can ascend to the top in the UFC as a one dimensional fighter. You now have to have a more well rounded game. Weidman and his coaches, Matt Serra and Ray Longo, understand that. It is reflected in the way that Weidman fights. He is able to take advantage of whatever opening presents itself because he has the skill in his tool box.
He is able to create many of those openings because of his fight IQ which is bolstered by his coaches. Consistently in his fights you hear Serra and Longo giving Weidman the perfect coaching during the fight. The three of them understand each other and work well together as a team.
It is not a surprise to see Serra coaching a fighter who is well rounded as he faced one of the greatest ever in Georges St-Pierre twice. Each time preparing for him he had to realize that there were very few weaknesses in St-Pierre and how difficult it is to face a fighter like that as an opponent. Weidman is becoming more and more like that with every fight. It is not just adding the skills to his arsenal that is so impressive but rather the way he puts is all together inside of the octagon. This fight with Machida was an excellent example of it.
One of the surprising elements of this fight was Weidman starting the fight out with kicks. First a body kick, then a head one and finally a low inside leg kick. All three missed due to Machida’s excellent vision and reactions but they set the tone. In the first 15 seconds Weidman had attacked all three levels and did it with kicks. This made him difficult to read in the fight and helped him get to Machida without rushing in.
Knowing what Machida is trying to do to you does not mean you will be able to avoid it. The kind of patience he requires is a different kind than what Weidman needed against Silva. In their first fight he did fall into Silva’s trap by engaging in the striking battle with him after doing damage to him on the ground. The difference between Weidman and every other fighter in the UFC who had faced Silva was his ability to capitalize on Silva’s antics.
They have been very effective antics for him throughout his career. Most fighters will tell you that fighting mad will lead to either gassing yourself out and/or making mistakes. The kind that lead to getting you knocked out. Silva would use the mockery in the cage to make his opponent want to punch him in the face and they would often overcommit on their strikes, get off balance and KO’d.
For this fight with Machida, Weidman needed to not get frustrated with the inability to hit him or get a takedown, and he had to stay patient. Machida is harder to hit or takedown than Silva who has avoided 62% of total strikes and stopped 79% of the takedown attempted during his UFC career. While Machida has avoided 65% of the strikes and 81% of the takedowns.
The dirty little secret as to why Machida is so successful against wrestlers is that he scores more takedowns or at least is able to match them in that area. Coming into this fight only Jon Jones (1-0) and Phil Davis (2-0) had scored more takedowns than Machida in their fight. Weidman really excelled in this area against Machida with a 5-0 takedown ratio.
Again, the takedowns came after Weidman setup his striking. The only takedown attempt in the first round by Weidman came off of a caught kick. Machida stuffed it. They ended up in the clinch and Weidman was the one who broke it off. Machida gets a lot of his takedowns from the clinch utilizing trips and his Sumo background. Weidman chose to fight the first round with a very strike based attack.
One of the keys of him effectively executing that game plan was his movement. Machida is excellent at moving backwards but also sideways. He uses it to not get trapped against the cage when fighters do close the distance. If a fighter is moving with him like Weidman was he will then reverse direction quickly to throw off their timing and rhythm. Weidman was able to time his sideways movement and caught Machida with a solid right hand and started a little flurry. Machida avoided most of the strikes and got away striking as he backed out.
As the round entered the final minute Weidman put together a perfect little sequence; he started forward and brought his hands up then he shot them down as he quickly shuffled towards Machida. For a moment it looked like he could throw another switch kick like he had several times earlier in the round. Insteadit was a fake takedown and he threw a left hook that Machida was able to avoid. Weidman did have him starting to duck down to stuff the takedown before he recognized the strike and avoided it.
In the second and third rounds Weidman was able to land more strikes and scored on 4 of 6 takedowns in those two rounds. He won the fight in the first three rounds with his intelligent pressure and ability to control the center of the cage to cut Machida off. This kept Machida against the cage for much of the fight. He could not use his movement front and back to create a collision. Instead, Weidman forced him to use his side to side movement.
Weidman then not only would survive Machida’s onslaught in the fourth round, he would come back strong in the fifth to win that one due in part to his final takedown late in the round. After going 4 for 6 in the previous two rounds he went 1 for 6 in the final two. The last one showed that he was not content to just cruise to a victory but looking to fight for it.
It was an impressive win for Weidman and it hints at future greatness. There are several challenges in the middleweight division ahead of him. That is part of the reason it is ridiculous to talk of him moving up to light heavyweight. On the UFC post-fight show on FOX Sports 1 it was suggested that he would be in the title picture.
Again, an impressive win but let’s put it in a little perspective especially in regards to Weidman moving up in weight. As great as Weidman looked in this fight, Jon Jones destroyed Machida. No one was or is talking about a rematch with Jones and Machida.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that Weidman is getting better and is this good after only 12 professional fights and he is now 8-0 to start his UFC career. That is all true but that does not take into account that Weidman is also 30 years old, a full four years older than Jones. Who at 23 years old destroyed Machida in their fight and with Jones also getting better with each fight it will be hard for Weidman to pass him. Also, Jones is 8-0 in UFC title fights alone.
Weidman has a chance to be one of the great UFC champions but to ask him to move up to light heavyweight is not a smart idea. He would struggle with both Jones or Alexander Gustafsson and several others in the top five. For right now let him enjoy this impressive win.
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