Has he earned your respect yet?
Chris Weidman definitely proved he was championship material last Sat. night (July 5, 2014) at UFC 175: "Weidman vs. Machida" in Las Vegas, defending his middleweight belt against Lyoto Machida in what could have been the fight of the year thus far in 2014 (highlights here).
The New Yorker had plenty of expectations going into his main event battle, since the jury was still out on him after his two wins over Anderson Silva. There are always going to be critics, but if there was ever a time to cast doubt over them, it was yesterday evening.
Maybe Weidman still has some flaws as a fighter, but most fighters do. The champion will gain more experience as his career moves along, since last night was the first time he found himself in the championship rounds, unlike his opponent. The "All American" started off spectacularly by cancelling out any of Machida's attacks in the opening three rounds, and worked his takedown attempts, too.
As much as winning matters most in this sport, you have to take a look at a certain fighter's opposition, and how he handles them. The champion didn't have it easy by fighting the "Spider" twice, and it's not like Machida was a simple task, being a former light heavyweight champion and one of the stiffest tests in the entire middleweight division.
Onward and upward.
Weidman's celebrations can only last so long, since there's a murderer's row waiting for him in the 185-pound division, which means he'll be back in the cage sooner rather than later -- if he was able to avoid the injury bug.
All fingers point to Vitor Belfort, who was the American's original opponent, before his plans were stomped on due to the recent testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) ban. The "Phenom" has been the poster boy for MMA's most controversial banned substance, and after scoring three head kick knockouts in his past three contests, at least the right questions are being asked when he failed his most recent drug test.
Other than the Brazilian's actual chances against Weidman, it's going to be tough to market this fight after UFC 175's epic meltdown involving himself, alongside Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva. Drug issues marred the biggest card of the year, and it's not exactly right for the promotion to brush things aside and let Belfort fight without proper conduct. If the organization really wants to make amends and prove Belfort is clean, then it should have the fight contested in Nevada, where the former UFC light heavyweight champion can't mess around.
Then, there's the winner of Ronaldo Souza vs. Gegard Mousasi, which is slated for UFC 176 (which may not happen altogether), but let's lean toward Souza. This isn't to say Mousasi doesn't stand a chance to win -- since he's defeated the Brazilian before -- yet "Jacare" hasn't lost in six straight fights, which includes dominant victories over Francis Carmont, Yushin Okami, and Chris Camozzi. If Belfort's issues still linger and Souza gets the win, Souza is more than qualified to be Weidman's next challenge.
But then again, if the "Dreamcatcher" blasts the Brazilian for the second time, doesn't he deserve recognition as a number one contender, too?
There's also one guy who has been relatively quiet while disposing his foes inside the Octagon, and that's former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.
The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) standout has wins over "Jacare," Tim Kennedy, and most recently, Costas Philippou and Tim Boetsch. And if it wasn't for "TRT-Vitor" kicking him into oblivion when he made his Octagon debut, the middleweight picture could have looked vastly different by now.
Rockhold will probably have to take another fight before convincing the brass to insert him in a championship bout, and the Kennedy rematch is likely to happen.
All in all, there are a number of contenders champing at the bit, and it's a little unclear as to whom Weidman can expect next, even with the promotion hinting at Belfort.
But if we can count on one thing, it's that Weidman earned the respect of almost everyone after his unusual wins over a guy who ruled the middleweight division for years, and if you still have questions about him, let's just see how he handles his next opponent.
If he steamrolls an upcoming foe and you're still not convinced, then you're simply a hater who can't be saved.
For extensive coverage of UFC 175: "Weidman vs. Machida," including video highlights, post-fight recaps, and more, click here.