Undefeated grappling phenom, Chris Weidman, is all set to challenge Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva for "The Spider's" 185-pound crown in the main event of the UFC 162: "Silva vs. Weidman" pay-per-view (PPV) this Saturday night (July 6. 2013) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After just four professional mixed martial Arts (MMA) bouts, "The All-American" was brought into UFC as a short notice replacement against Italian boxer Alessio Sakara. Utilizing a strong wrestling game, Weidman controlled "Legionarius" but was less than spectacular.
But a win is a win.
In his next two Octagon performances, Weidman showed the depth of his game, quickly choking out Tom Lawlor and Jesse Bongfeldt. With less than two weeks to prepare, the Ring of Combat (ROC) standout was thrown into the shark tank opposite jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia and won a clear, if uninspired, unanimous decision on FOX.
After defeating the former middleweight title challenger, Weidman was matched up against fellow rising star Mark Munoz in a number one contender's bout. The former Hofstra hurter put a beating on "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" in just two rounds, brutally finishing him with an elbow.
Sporting a 9-0 record, Weidman will now challenge the most experienced and perhaps most decorated champion in the history of the organization. Does the still-green challenger have the necessary skills to dethrone the longtime champion?
Let's take a closer look at his "All American" skill set.
Working under the trained eye of Ray Longo, Weidman's striking has improved throughout his UFC career. The New Yorker has done a good job rounding out his game and is now dangerous in all areas, even on his feet.
"The All-American" possess a solid boxing game. He flicks out jabs with authority and is more than capable of tying together three and four punch combinations. Additionally, his straight right is quick and accurate, although not terribly powerful.
Weidman likes to stand in the pocket and trade hooks. While they're effective when mixed into his combinations, his hooks are especially powerful when he rushes in from the outside.
In Weidman's third professional fight, he faced Uriah Hall, a powerful striker who later became infamous for his run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). Forcing Hall to lower his hands to defend his takedowns, Weidman caught Hall with a huge left hook and put him to sleep halfway through the opening round.
Before the Munoz fight, Weidman's striking looked sound, but it wasn't especially devastating or complex. However, Weidman's kickboxing proved to be deeper than expected. Regardless of whether he planned to capitalize on Munoz's habit of leading with his face or innovated on the spot, Weidman's knockout showed that the young fighter is still adding tools into his arsenal and is intent on becoming a well-rounded fighter.
In addition to his punching prowess, Weidman has decent kicks. He throws leg and high kicks fluidly, but it would behoove him to keep his hands up as he does, especially against a masterful counter striker like Silva. Otherwise, he'll eat punches in the middle of his kick.
Weidman opened the Munoz fight with three head kicks in the first minute. None landed, but they forced Munoz to focus high, opening up a single leg takedown just a few moments later. Munoz is a skilled wrestler, so this misdirection was key in allowing Weidman to gain the takedown edge.
Despite Weidman's advancements on the feet, his defense is still porous. Weidman has the bad habit of covering up and waiting out his opponent's combinations, instead of trying to circle away or counter. This is a viable way to defend himself in boxing, but with MMA gloves, there will inevitably be holes for his opponent to exploit.
After winning a state championship in high school, Weidman earned All-American status four times, twice at both the Division 1 and NJCAA level. So far, Weidman has out-wrestled everyone of his opponents and has yet to give up a takedown.
Weidman is well-rounded in his takedown attempts. He is capable of blasting through doubles and grinding for them against the fence. Once Weidman shoots, he is very determined, driving until he gets the takedown or is forced to transition to a different attempt. Additionally, Weidman likes to finish his takedowns with a trip or by cutting angle, which makes them far more difficult to defend.
Weidman's best takedown is likely his single leg. When he can get below his opponent's hips, Weidman is able to run the pipe and drag his opponent to the mat. Weidman easily hit this takedown twice on Munoz, who is a Division 1 champion.
In addition to his shots, Weidman has a powerful clinch game. Excellent at controlling his opponent's posture from both the over-under and double underhooks position, Weidman is able to trip and toss his opponent easily. From the clinch, Weidman excels at getting his hips behind his opponents, which makes throws much easier.
One of Weidman's favorite wrestling techniques is the front headlock. This compliments his advanced front choke attacks and allows him to control his opponent while he hunts for submissions. Additionally, Weidman is good at landing small shots from the front headlock, which prevents his opponent from resting.
From the top position, Weidman is able to control his opponent well. For the most part, he prefers to throw small punches while he passes and looks for submissions, but he's willing to posture up and drop heavy shots if his opponent stops his passing game.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Weidman is currently a brown belt in jiu-jitsu under former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra. Weidman is considered by many to be a jiu-jitsu prodigy, as he was able to qualify and compete at ADCC, the most prestigious no-gi competition in the world, after just a year of training.
Weidman makes his intentions clear the moment he drags his opponent to the mat: he's after a choke. He often begins by attacking with a high elbow guillotine, then attempting to finish or transition to a d'arce choke. The benefit of this style is that it can be used across multiple positions, top or bottom, which allows Weidman to always be on the offensive.
Weidman constantly baits his opponents with underhooks. As they go to stand up, Weidman will swim his arm through and wrap up their neck for a d'arce choke. The d'arce choke is very underutilized and is a great tool to prevent his opponent from returning to their feet. In addition to threatening Munoz with the d'arce, Weidman finished Tom Lawlor in the first round with it.
From the front headlock, Weidman will force his opponents to give up superior position by threatening with chokes. If they refuse to surrender dominant positions, he will attempt either the d'arce or guillotine, and either finish or land in a great spot. This is likely Weidman's best position, as he's able to control, do damage, and potentially finish the fight.
Almost all of Weidman's submission attempts are chokes. Outside of choking his opponent out, Weidman will go for kimuras, like he did against Munoz. Although he was unable to finish Munoz with the kimura, he did win his professional debut via kimura.
Another key to Weidman's grappling is his impressive guard passing ability. Weidman often controls his opponent's foot with one hand before jumping over, making it difficult for his opponent to tie his legs up. Or, Weidman will begin his pass before his opponent can establish guard, jumping around their legs immediately after the takedown.
Weidman is clearly one of the quickest learners in the sport, outpaced by only light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones. A stud wrestler, Weidman adapted his game to jiu-jitsu so fast that he shocked many people at ADCC. After a points victory, Weidman faced one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners ever and two-time Mundials champion, Andre Galvao.
While Weidman lost to the Brazilian, he managed to land multiple takedowns and threaten with chokes. Additionally, he wasn't submitted, which is incredibly impressive for a new purple belt going against such a phenomenal black belt.
Even if Weidman hasn't picked up striking as quickly as jiu-jitsu, he's still shown an aptitude for it. Knocking out a powerful kickboxer like Uriah Hall in his third fight is quite impressive, as is demolishing Munoz so effortlessly with a rarely seen technique. Weidman may only have nine professional fights, but he's one of the most complete fighters in the division and is still evolving.
Best chance for success
Game planning against Silva is not an easy task, as the man is unbeaten in the Octagon for a reason. In "The Spider's" last fight, Stephan Bonnar employed an ideal game plan, similar to what I recommended, and was still crushed within a round.
Obviously, striking with Silva is not an option. Weidman's striking could improve tenfold since his last fight, and he'd still be miles away from Silva. However, not striking and diving in with takedowns isn't an option either, as both Demian Maia and Thales Leites can attest.
In order to get in close enough to Silva, Weidman will be forced to exchange with him. He isn't technical enough to close the distance safely, so his only option is to punch his way in. Both Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson had some success by getting Silva to trade with them, before stepping in for a takedown.
Assuming Weidman can get Silva to the ground, he needs to be as aggressive as possible. The chances of him catching an early submission are much higher than him controlling Silva without getting caught for twenty-five minutes. Therefore, he needs to jump on Silva's neck early and often, even if he risks position.
Does Chris Weidman have what it takes to snatch "The Spider's" belt, or will Silva hang onto his championship bling?