Chris Weidman desperately needed a victory last night.
Having lost five of his last six bouts via knockout, Weidman was far removed from the confident young New Yorker who once stormed the Octagon to knock out Anderson Silva. His skills have not faded entirely, however. Weidman still has a spectacular high-crotch pick up. He can still box and make use of that long reach. When Weidman latches onto the neck, he’s still a threat.
All those skills were on display last night against Omari Akhmedov. It was not an easy victory, but Weidman showed off some slickness in controlling the Sambo master for long periods of time. Unfortunately, he also had some real bad moments in the second, where Weidman looked desperate and tired, and one really clean connection could have ended his night (again).
Fortunately for Weidman, his opponent was nearly as fatigued, so Weidman was given a second-chance.
Most of Weidman’s losses can be attributed to at least one of two factors: confidence and conditioning. If we go all the way back to his title loss to Luke Rockhold, an overabundance of confidence (aided by some fatigue) informed Weidman that a spinning kick would be a good idea.
It was not.
Still, on the whole, Weidman fought well! He fought well against Yoel Romero too, but this time, fatigue saw him grow a bit more predictable — a bad thing to be opposite the Cuban knockout artist.
His losses to Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo Souza followed a similar pattern, in which Weidman started strong before fading badly as his opponent’s offense started landing. Part of this can be attributed to cardio, but it was visibly clear that Weidman no longer carried the confidence on an undefeated champion. When his opponents started surging and landing, Weidman could not meaningfully force the momentum to shift back.
Championship Weidman ate big shots from guys like Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida only to wave them in and pay them back. Weidman’s more recent meetings with adversity largely see him shell up or get more desperate for the takedown, which generally sees the situation grow more dire.
That’s a really bad trend, because much lesser fighters than Weidman will still occasionally find some success against him — that’s the reality of small gloves. Such was the case with Akhmedov, who is noticeably worse than Weidman in pretty much every area, yet dominated the second round.
For a moment, focus on the positives regarding Weidman’s performance. After a disastrous five-minutes that were uncomfortably reminiscent of the exchanges that led to his knockout losses, Weidman rallied. He didn’t lose faith. He returned to his excellent high-crotch and tripped the Dagestani to the mat.
Once on top, Weidman made good decisions. He looked for the submission, but he didn’t try anything too risky. He stayed heavy on his fatigued foe in dominant enough position that the referee didn’t even consider a stand up. Eventually, he dropped a few elbows and won on a high note.
Weidman’s resurgence in the third round was a considerably positive sign regarding his confidence issues. He fought back from a really bad spot and did so smartly. He did not let Akhmedov continue building momentum and doing damage.
That’s a fantastic shift.
Unfortunately, cardio remains a plague for Weidman. He was only saved in this bout by the simple fact that Akhmedov is notoriously rubbish in the third round too. Both men were taking deep mouth breathes by the middle of the first round, and that’s not going to fly against the top Middleweights Weidman wants to fight.
There is a silver lining: conditioning is a science. At 36 years of age, it may be more difficult now than in 2014, but Weidman can rebuild his gas tank. He might have to find a new nutritionist or strength coach or swim extra miles or sprint more often — it’s impossible to say without insight into his training camp ... but it can be done.
If Weidman does solve his conditioning woes while building confidence off this win, hope is still alive for Weidman to claw his way back into the top 10. However, if the fatigue problem persists or Weidman’s confidence takes another dip, the best Middleweights in the world are going to hurt him.
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