Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
East Meadow's Matt Serra gave Long Islanders their own homeboy to root for in mixed martial arts, even if the sport is still illegal in New York.
Freeport's Jay Hieron added to the local legacy with stints in the UFC, IFL and now Strikeforce. Westbury's Pete Sell and New Hyde Park's Luke Cummo put two more points on the map with turns on "The Ultimate Fighter" and several fights in the UFC.
Might Chris Weidman be the next Long Island fighter to work his way into people's homes aside from those of friends and family in Baldwin?
To hear his trainers - Serra and Ray Longo - speak is to imagine Weidman headlining a UFC main event before too long.
"It's really hard to find him a sparring partner," Longo said. "He's just been putting everybody into the ground."
Said Serra, "He's a four-time All-American wrestler, but he took the jiu-jitsu like a fish to water."
Such positive commentary is to be expected from the guys who train him.
But, to hear others speak is to consider that maybe Weidman's trainers know a few things about this sport. Weidman is considered one of, if not the top, MMA prospect at middleweight (185 pounds). When Weidman lost on points in overtime in the second round of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship (think: Super Bowl for no-Gi grappling), last year, his name was in the headline. Not the winner's name, which by the way, was Andre Galvao, a seven-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion.
Not too bad for a 26-year-old Nassau CC and Hofstra alum with just two professional fights.
"The first time he jumped into sparring, he destroyed the guy who was fighting in a few weeks," Longo said.
Weidman has the "it" you want in a fighter. Or at least he's showing all the signs of possessing "it."
Combine his natural athletic ability with his sick strength and speed, which stems from his wrestling background, and Weidman could be that next local star.
A quick look at the five UFC champions shows that three of them - Frankie Edgar, Georges St-Pierre and Brock Lesnar - are experienced, dominant wrestlers. It's become the most natural and successful transition into MMA. Ryan Bader and Phil Davis, a pair of rising UFC light heavyweights, have a combined 19-0 pro MMA record and six All-American honors in college.
Weidman beat them both while at Hofstra.
Did we also mention that Weidman nearly made the U.S. Olympic wrestling team for the 2008 Games in Beijing? "It's a huge mental advantage, wrestling Division I," Weidman said. "Getting pushed and pushed to the point where you want to die. It's about how tough you want to be."
We'll find out just how tough Weidman wants to be on Sept. 24 in Atlantic City at Ring of Combat 31. He fights champion Uriah Hall for the middleweight title at The Tropicana. It's his first MMA fight since April 2009.
In between, he qualified and competed in the Abu Dhabi tournament in Barcelona. He had less than a year's worth of jiu-jitsu training. Things like that don't happen often. Not in this sport.
He also just happened to be injured for seven months, as well. A dislocated joint in his right hand suffered during sparring before Abu Dhabi led to a bone graft for Weidman on Dec. 1. Weidman, father to a 7-month-old girl and husband to his high-school sweetheart, spent two months in a cast and found out in June that he could fight again in September.
"They ended up taking my hip and putting it in my hand," he said. "Leg kick me all day, I won't feel a thing."