Chris Weidman is a quick study, but preparing for Anderson Silva takes time
Mixed martial artists must evolve. Some do it over time. Others do it in six days.
Chris Weidman has done both.
"In several of his professional fights, I would show him some moves when we arrived for the UFC on a Monday and he would use them that Saturday to finish opponents or severely threaten them or put them under tremendous duress," said John Danaher, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie and an integral part of Weidman's team. "Even in the week before a fight when you're not really supposed to be learning anything new, he would pick things up and fearlessly use them in high-profile fights and with tremendous success."
Tom Lawlor found that out in 127 seconds when Weidman submitted him via D'Arce choke at UFC 139 in November 2011. And that was just on the undercard.
Weidman's next fight is as high profile as it gets -- main event on pay-per-view against the greatest mixed martial artist the sport has ever known. Weidman, from Baldwin, will challenge Anderson Silva for his middleweight title at UFC 162 in Las Vegas July 6.
Of course, beating Silva takes more than a few days of working on a new move in a hotel. It requires, well, no one really knows what it requires because Silva (33-4) hasn't lost a fight in seven years and is undefeated in the UFC (16-0).
A deeply structured and regimented training camp is a must - and something of a first for Weidman (9-0, 5-0 UFC). Since signing with the UFC in February 2011, he booked two fights on short notice -- 19 and 11 days. For his other three fights, he had a plan and a schedule, but not detailed to the point where every day and hour is planned out from Day One.
"When I found out that there was no organized fight camp, I was literally horrified," Danaher said. "You're fighting the second best mixed martial artist in the world. You must enter now into the realm of the professional athlete. Right now you're fighting with the mindset of a prodigiously talented amateur, but you're fighting professionals with strong financial backing and professional fight camps and you must enter that realm."
Danaher trains UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and considers him the best. St-Pierre is No. 2 or 3 on most pound-for-pound MMA rankings.
Weidman, 29, began his fight camp with zest, and with a healthy right shoulder. An injury last November forced Weidman to pull out of a December bout against Tim Boetsch.
New training partners were brought in to work specific disciplines in which Silva excels. New routines. New cardio exercises. New diet. Even a new scale, in which his weight and nutritional information gets transmitted wirelessly to a website for tracking and analysis. It's all part of a ramped-up training camp for a determined fighter preparing for a life-altering fight.
"The difference is determination with skill," said Ray Longo, Weidman's head trainer. "He's a determined, talented, young, huge 185-pounder."
That determination to succeed began well before Weidman started his MMA career. He was a two-time All-American wrestler at both Nassau CC and Hofstra. As a junior at Baldwin High School, Weidman finished fourth in the state tournament at 171 pounds, then won the 189-pound title as a senior in 2002.
His desire to compete and improve was cultivated early.
"You try to do that with all your kids, to convince them of their abilites and what they can achieve," said Steve Shippos, who coached Weidman from youth wrestling through high school. "But with Chris, it was just there. You didn't have to do that. As soon as he walked into the wrestling room as a young kid, he had a smile on his face. He liked to work to get better."
Getting better is one thing. Being better than Silva on the night he's facing Silva is another."I think," Shippos said, "that Mr. Silva is in for a rude awakening."