Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight kingpin, Chris Weidman, will square off with top-talent, Kelvin Gastelum, this Saturday night (July 22, 2017) at UFC on FOX 25 inside Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
When you’re the undefeated champion of the world with a pair of wins over the arguable greatest of all time, there’s really only one place to go.
Weidman’s skid has shocked some people and justified others. Those with hindsight are always the best informed, but it’s become clear that most of Weidman’s big wins were against great fighters of the past, older veterans still looking sharp. When faced with the top-tier of today’s talent, Weidman has lost three straight, although he’s never appeared out of his element either.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set before he looks to break that streak on Saturday.
Despite his trio of knockout losses, Weidman remains a very solid striker. He utilizes his reach well, and Weidman is among the best at stalking his opponent with a blend of heavy punches and takedowns.
Two very important aspects of striking that are often ignored are footwork and range. In both of these areas, Weidman developed very quickly. In his most famous wins against Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, Weidman showed composure and experience by picking the right attack depending on the distance. He avoided reaching, which meant always kept his feet underneath him while pursuing and gave away few counters.
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.
Kicks were a major part of his strategy opposite Lyoto Machida, who is a more movement-focused athlete than his team mate. Rather than risk running into the cross, Weidman was content to slowly cut off the cage. He moved into the clinch/takedown or punched when it was smart, but Weidman never forced those moments. Machida is crafty, and if he was too far away to easily latch onto, Weidman happily threw a half-dozen kicks his way to do damage and slow his movement (GIF).
Another pressure fighting tactic that Weidman showed off opposite “The Dragon” was hand-fighting. Both men had slowed down a bit by the second half of the fight, which allowed Weidman to more easily reach out and grab his opponent’s wrists. This slowed Machida’s feet further, and it allowed Weidman to transition into the uglier portions of the fight where he thrived (GIF).
It’s also important to note that Weidman feints very well, constantly threatening level changes. His ability to suddenly step into a high-crotch single leg is pretty unique — few can match his timing — so all these feints must be respected, usually by conceding ground and letting Weidman advance.
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 shifting left hook, arguably his hardest punch. If Weidman notices his opponent circling away from his power, he'll attack with that strike.
Before things fell apart, Weidman showed a great deal of intelligence in the cage. Opposite Mark Munoz, he capitalized on the wrestler’s habit of leaning into punches face-first, decking him with a counter elbow (GIF). In both Silva fights, Weidman showed real smarts as well. Doubling up on punches was a great way to capitalize on Silva’s low hands and reliance on head movement, and focusing on checking kicks was a clear sign that Weidman learned from the initial bout.
Even in his recent losses, Weidman hasn’t lost that trait. He actually fought incredibly well in the first round of his bout with Romero, using inside low kicks to knock Romero out of stance and leave him vulnerable to punches and takedowns. However, in all three of his defeats, Weidman made major mistakes that likely stemmed from fatigue. Most notably is of course the infamous wheel kick that allowed Rockhold to dominate, but shooting a slow inside takedown on Romero is also a disastrous idea.
Defensively, Weidman is generally good at keeping his head off the center line in combinations and slips well. However, once hit hard or stunned, he does tend to shell up and wait for his opponent to unload. He blocks well in that case, but it’s still a less than ideal trait, as skilled punchers will find a hole in his defenses. Plus, it’s easy to throw a devastating kick on a covering opponent, and a kick on the forearms can still do plenty of damage.
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 is unique and quite effective in the Octagon.
“The All-American” has one of the best snatch single legs in the game. He doesn’t drop to his knees or run into the shot — at least not most of the time. Instead, Weidman gets just close enough to his opponent that he can briefly duck down and grab their hamstring. Then, he’ll yank the leg forward, pulling his opponent into him rather than the opposite. This often pulls his opponent off-balance and makes his favorite dump finish easier to land.
When needed, Weidman also 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 (GIF), making them more difficult to defend than straight shots.
In one example of clean wrestling from Weidman, check out this double leg of Anderson Silva (GIF). Weidman’s feints allow him to get in deep on a double leg, but Silva is still able to sprawl rather than concede the shot. From that unenviable position, Weidman was able to pull himself deep underneath “The Spider” and sit to his knees. No longer was Silva’s weight stretching Weidman out, as he was now completely supported on top of the wrestler with little leverage. From there, Weidman easily elevated a leg to topple Silva and take top position.
It’s been a lesser part of his game lately, but Weidman nevertheless has a strong clinch game. From there, he’s a strong wrestler that transitions well between trips and level changes, and he also mixes in his favored lateral drop.
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 top position, Weidman is a remarkably effective fighter. He’s an active guard passer and choke hunter, which creates lots of opportunities for him to attack with punches as well. He did big damage on the mat to both Silva and Machida. In his last bout, Weidman had a hell of a time controlling Gegard Mousasi, but he was still able to score some decent shots and advance into mount at one point.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Weidman, a black 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.
These chokes are the topic of his technique highlight.
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. It also helps him keep his opponent pinned to the mat, as it attacks the underhooks that fighters use to stand.
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, which is the old Jake Shields special.
Against Mousasi, Weidman faced arguably the best grappler of his career aside from Maia, who was too small to threaten Weidman. Mousasi did an admirable job of scrambling back to his feet using the guard, but Weidman also had great moments where he used the cut pass or smash pass to work through Mousasi’s open guard.
This is a crossroads bout for Chris Weidman. He’s undeniably a great fighter, but he’s also lost three straight fights and simply fallen apart in the second half of each. Gastelum is not a man to slip up against — he’ll be jamming his 1-2 in Weidman’s face the second the New Yorker goes to take a break. It’s ultimately a test of focus and conditioning, as Weidman has the skills and size on paper to control his smaller foe.
25 minutes is a long time to avoid making errors, but it’s a task Weidman must accomplish to remain in the title mix.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.