Chris Weidman hasn't had much sleep since becoming UFC middleweight champ
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The time for Chris Weidman to rest had come. Yet after capturing the UFC middleweight championship, he found himself lying awake in bed as one sleepless night after another passed.
"I try to go to sleep, and then all of a sudden I realize, hours have gone by and I'm still awake," he said Thursday, five days after stunning Anderson Silva to win the title. "It's the first time in my life I'm having trouble sleeping."
Maybe the adrenaline from the fight still lingered.
Maybe an overloaded mind struggled to shut down.
Or maybe it was simply harder for him to dream after his had become a reality.
"This win must have meant something to me," he said with a trace of sarcasm, "because I can't stop thinking about it."
Weidman returned to his block in Baldwin at about 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Neighbors lined the street. Congratulatory signs decorated the neighborhood. Fireworks lit the sky.
Three nights prior, Weidman had landed a left hook to the chin of Silva, sending him to the mat at UFC 162 in Las Vegas. He followed with ground strikes until the match was called at 1:18 of the second round, handing Silva his first loss in UFC and the first knockout of his pro career. A stunned MMA fan base watched as Weidman, who is 10-0 and will face Silva in a rematch Dec. 28, left the cage with a belt over his shoulder.
"It certainly wasn't only two or four years of training like people think," said Weidman's father, Charlie. "This was an accumulation of a lifetime of efforts that put him right there for that historic moment."
The road to glory
The holes in the basement walls of his parents' Baldwin home represent the earliest damage of Weidman's fighting career. Sure, there was a wrestling mat where he and his older brother would dual. But at times, it couldn't contain the battles, and bodies went through drywall.
"There was no use fixing it," Charlie said, "because they'd just do it again."
Longtime Baldwin wrestling coach Steve Shippos, who first met Weidman when he joined the Baldwin Kid Wrestling program as a second grader, would often playfully grapple with his wrestlers before practice. When Weidman made varsity as a freshman, Shippos was immediately in awe of his strength. "I told my wife, 'I better not roll around on the mat with Chris anymore,' " he said. "He might embarrass me."
Weidman went on to win the Nassau County championship at 189 pounds as a junior in 2001 and senior in 2002. He capped his high school career with an overtime victory in the state championship match, in which he escaped from the bottom position to record a last-second win.
"Chris was never nervous," Shippos said. "You never saw him step on a mat with a look in his eye where you questioned if he thought he could do it or not. Even now, every time Chris steps into the cage, he knows he can win. And he proved it."
When Nassau Community College wrestling coach Phil Schmidt learned that Weidman was enrolled at the school, he took an "I'll believe it when I see it" approach.
"It's not every day a state champion falls into your lap at Nassau," he said, "especially one with Chris' talent."
Weidman said he drew interest from Division I schools but attended Nassau to improve his grades. The first week of school, Schmidt printed out Weidman's schedule and went to the classroom for confirmation. Sure enough, there was a state champion wrestler sitting at a desk.
"He opened up the doors for the wrestling program," said Schmidt, who helped organize a ceremony that will honor Weidman at the Garden City campus on Thursday. "All of a sudden it was, 'If Chris Weidman went to Nassau, I can go to Nassau.' It was a great recruiting tool."
Schmidt said that as a freshman, Weidman became the first junior college student to win the state collegiate championships. He led Nassau to its first national championship, winning two straight from 2002 to 2003, and was named All-American both years.
He transferred to Hofstra, where he majored in psychology and again became a two-time All-American in wrestling, finishing sixth in the NCAA Tournament as a junior and third as a senior.
While getting his Master's degree in physical education and serving as an assistant coach for the wrestling team, a classmate and friend suggested he become a wrestling instructor for mixed martial artists. As his MMA circle took shape, he went from trainer to trainee.
Weidman was introduced to Matt Serra, a UFC fighter from East Meadow who became his first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach at his BJJ Academy, and Ray Longo, who owns a Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Garden City and became his trainer.
"For a kid that never had any experience, his transition was phenomenal right from the get-go," Longo said. "I never saw that high of a level of wrestling before."
After getting injured while training for the 2008 Olympic trials, Weidman began to see MMA as the best option to support his family.
He had to get approval from his wife, Marivi -- the couple has two children, Cassidy and Chris Jr. The conditions were that he had to make more money than he did as a coach -- which was about $15,000 per year -- and couldn't get any black eyes.
"I just thought it was meant to be," Weidman said. "I thought I had a lot of potential and I didn't want to waste it. I saw a lot of wrestlers were doing really well with it so I gave it a shot."
His MMA career began in February of 2009 at Ring of Combat 23 against Reuben Lopez, whom he defeated by submission. It was the first of 10 straight wins. His debut in UFC came in March of 2011 and he knocked out Mark Munoz in July to earn a title shot.
But there were setbacks along the way. While training, superstorm Sandy destroyed the bottom floor of his house, displacing Weidman and his family for months. He underwent multiple surgeries, the most recent in November, to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, canceling his next fight and potentially jeopardizing his future. His title run was delayed, but not derailed.
"This is only the start of Chris' story," said Serra, who years back on his video blog proclaimed that Weidman would be the future of UFC. "He's young. He has the skill set. He's surrounded by the right people. I think Chris has the potential to not only hold onto that belt for a long time, but to possibility be one of the greatest."
Weidman has that belief in himself, evident by the message he delivered to his mother, Mary, before his fight against Silva. "He told me, 'Don't let anyone stop you from getting into the cage after I win,' " she said.
She certainly got into the cage, joining her husband who was in his son's corner for the first time. His younger sister, Colleen, fended off security guards to make it there as well.
The night of the fight, Weidman returned to his hotel with family and friends around 6 a.m. following two after-parties. He went to the reception desk at MGM Grand in Las Vegas and requested a new room key. He was asked for identification, which he didn't have on him.
Someone in his group shouted, "Turn around! Isn't that enough ID for you?"
Hanging overhead was a promotional banner of Weidman, settling any questions regarding his identity. New key in hand, new belt in tow, new future in front of him, Weidman headed to his room. There he spent the first of multiple restless nights.
"I justified my thinking with this win because I believed in myself," he said before letting out a yawn. "For me to prove myself right feels great. Now I'm excited to do it some more . . . and to get some sleep."