Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight wunderkind, Chris Weidman, is set to scrap with former light heavyweight kingpin and karate expert, Lyoto Machida, this Saturday night (July 5, 2014) inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A nice win streak during an empty middleweight division earned Weidman a title shot just nine fights into his mixed martial arts (MMA) career. Facing off with one of the best fighters in history, Weidman showed his mental toughness and skill by walking down Anderson Silva and knocking him out in the second round.
Due to the bizarre nature of the finish and Silva's extended title reign, a rematch was immediately formed. This time, Weidman was clearly dominant for the entire bout. Unfortunately, the fight was cut short when Silva's shin shattered in the midst of the fight. Thanks to this abrupt finish, some fans still have little faith in Serra-Longo-trained fighter.
Can he once again prove himself inside the Octagon?
Let's find out.
Under the tutelage of Ray Longo, Weidman has developed a solid boxing game. His fundamentals are very strong, and Weidman has quickly become very good at fully utilizing his reach.
Two very important aspects of striking that are often ignored or forgotten by fans are footwork and range. In both of these areas, Weidman has developed very quickly. Against Silva, Weidman showed composure and experience by never using the wrong strike from whatever range he was at, and he always kept his feet underneath him while pursuing "The Spider."
For example, Weidman never rushed in with a looping overhand from outside the boxing range, a common attack among men who have fought Silva. He did, however, use an overhand to punch out of the clinch, an effective distance for that strike. Additionally, whenever Silva stood too far and tried to bait Weidman into over-committing, Weidman remained calm and kicked him instead.
Furthermore, Weidman feints very well, constantly threatening level changes. While on the outside with Silva, Weidman did an excellent job feinting while moving forward. Loosely throwing his arms at Silva, Weidman did not allow Silva to be the only unpredictable fighter. He hasn't been able to build off his feints with punches very often just yet, but his feints have effectively disguised his intentions.
Weidman has a fairly effective jab. He throws the strike accurately and with a solid snap. He also builds off it well, often doubling it up or following it up with a right hand. With his straight punches, Weidman fully utilizes his 78-inch reach.
As Weidman gets comfortable, he'll mix hooks into the combination. Weidman is very comfortable in the pocket, confident in his ability to slip strikes and land his left hook. In addition to throwing the hook in combination, Weidman likes to lead with a lunging left hook, arguably his hardest punch. If Weidman notices his opponent circling away from his power, he'll attack with that strike.
Finally, Weidman's kicking game is developing nicely. It's not as polished as his boxing, but Weidman mixes basic roundhouse kicks into his attack quite well and even landed a nice front kick against Silva.
Perhaps the most important part of Weidman's overall game is his intelligence. Weidman can follow a game plan perfectly, a trait that very few fighters possess. Of course, that only matters if the game plan is a good one, and so far the Serra-Longo camp has provided just that.
For example, Weidman planned to counter Munoz's habit of leading with his face. From the outside, Weidman threw and landed kicks. When Munoz tried to close the distance, Weidman first out-wrestled him. Then, he throw the counter elbow, and Munoz ran directly into it. Against a fighter that kept his head back, it likely would not have landed cleanly or at all.
But for that specific opponent, it worked beautifully.
In both fights with Silva, Weidman proved that he can fight intelligently. In the first bout, Weidman used Silva's love of rolling with punches against him by mixing a small back fist into his combination. This meant that two punches came from the same direction, and Silva rolled directly into the second one.
Just like that, a well-planned combination dethroned perhaps the greatest fighter in the sport's history.
Though many people disagree on exactly what was happening in the first bout, it's certain that Silva did land a number of hard low kicks. Prior to the second bout, I wrote about the importance of leg kicks for both men. Silva needed to land them, and Weidman needed to stop them.
Weidman may not have planned for a leg break, but he set himself up for success by working on checking the kicks in camp. Then, he replicated that practice inside the Octagon. It sounds so simple, but most people cannot pull it of against a fighter of Silva's caliber.
Defensively, Weidman does a good job staying away from strikes with his distance. However, he does show his inexperience at times as well. Sometimes, he freezes up when his opponent lands on him, simply covering up and waiting for the combination to end. That's not the worst trait, but it allows his opponent to land some easy shots and eliminates potential counters. Additionally, he will occasionally move straight backwards when his opponent pushes forward, which makes him easier to hit.
Weidman is on of the UFC's more credentialed wrestlers. A high school state champion, two-time junior college All-American, and two-time Division-1 All-American, Weidman's wrestling has transferred over to MMA quite well so far.
Weidman has a nice, powerful shot. Regardless of whether he's using a single or double, Weidman's drive is excellent once he is in on his opponent's hips. He's skilled overall, meaning that he can wrestle in the center of the Octagon or up against the fence. Finally, Weidman finishes a majority of his takedowns with a trip or corner turn, making them more difficult to defend than straight shots.
Weidman's most utilized takedown is undoubtedly the single leg, which he frequently finishes by running the pipe. Before shooting, Weidman does a very nice job closing the distance with a quick punch or two. As his opponent raises his defense, Weidman drops down and begins the single leg.
Inside the clinch, Weidman is very powerful. Once he gets double underhooks -- or even from over-under -- Weidman is able to control his opponent until he looks for a trip or throw. Weidman likes to attack with the lateral drop, a risky throw that often lands him in a dominant position if it is successful.
Weidman's front headlock is extremely dangerous from a jiu-jitsu standpoint, but it is also very useful in controlling his opponent. Once he controls his foe's head, he'll snap him down or let go with a quick level drop. If he cannot take his opponent down off of the front headlock, Weidman will use the position to land knees to the head and shoulders.
From the top, Weidman has gotten much better at using his length to deliver effective ground strikes, as long fighters don't need a ton of room to land damaging blows. This showed in his last bout against Silva, as Weidman was able to land hard punches and elbows from within Silva's closed guard. Normally, Silva's defense is quite solid within his guard, but Weidman was successful from there.
Weidman is also quite adept at controlling his opponent. He doesn't merely get a firm grip and hang on, he creates a situation of constant transitions. This was best seen in his bout with Munoz. Despite Weidman flowing from position to position and hunting for submissions, Munoz wasn't able to stand up.
Additionally, the threat of front chokes makes it more difficult for Weidman's opponent to stand. Once Weidman grabs a front headlock, his opponent cannot aggressively stand up without the risk of being submitted.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Weidman, a brown belt, is one of the most naturally talented grapplers in the world. After just a single year of training, he was able to compete at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC), which is the highest level of no-gi jiu-jitsu.
Once Weidman is on top, he makes his objective clear early, Weidman is a relentless pursuer of the choke, or more specifically the large number of chokes that stem from the front headlock. Weidman transitions between these submissions beautifully, switching between chokes until one is fully sunk in.
Weidman often starts his attack with the high elbow guillotine, the choke that finished Jesse Bongfeldt. With that grip, he will look to transition into the mount to finish. When his opponent goes to fight his hands, Weidman will momentarily release the neck and then overhook his opponent's arm. From there, he swims his arm deeper through the overhook and around his opponent's neck. Then, he'll look to lock up that arm in a rear naked choke grip to complete the D'arce.
Weidman will also hunt for the D'arce as his opponent looks to stand. Using an underhook to stand is a common and effective strategy, but Weidman makes his opponent pay for it by countering with the D'arce. That's how he finished Tom Lawlor, and then he used the threat of the D'arce to keep Munoz on his back.
It's also helpful to Weidman that these front chokes are very versatile. They can be used from his back, on top, or during transitions. He can use front chokes to defend takedowns or force his opponent to the mat. Regardless of how they are used, the technique is largely the same, meaning that excelling at this one set of moves allows Weidman to attack from many different areas.
Finally, front chokes can be used to sweep his opponent or force him into a dominant position. Munoz repeatedly gave up the mount in order to avoid being submitted, which is much easier for Weidman than trying to force his way into mount.
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. Weidman also likes to immediately hop across his opponent's guard after running the pipe with a single leg, a technique that Jake Shields has mastered.
Best chance for success
In order to defeat Machida, Weidman needs to ensure that his feinting and distance are on point. If he makes a mistake in either area, "The Dragon" will capitalize. He also needs to threaten with his takedowns early, if only to make Machida wary of the shot.
Once Weidman settles into the fight, he should utilize what has worked well on Machida in the past. Should Machida react to his feints, then it's time to start kicking at his legs. If he does not, Weidman should feel confident enough to step in with a nice combination.
Weidman's lunging left hook could be a valuable tool or the reason for his defeat, depending on how he uses the strike. If Weidman uses the punch to cut off Machida's movement in that direction, then he has improved his chances substantially. But if he were to get frustrated and lunge at Machida with no set up? Ask Ryan Bader how well that works out.
There you have it.
Will Weidman defend his title for the second time, or can Machida begin his second reign as a UFC champion?