From the training and ticket requests to the preparations and photo shoots, it's been a wild ride of late for Baldwin's Chris Weidman. Tack that onto just 19 days' notice, and Weidman's Ultimate Fighting Championship debut Thursday will be something to remember.
"This has been the craziest two weeks of my life," said Weidman, a two-time All-American wrestler at both Nassau CC and Hofstra. "Everyone is just so happy for me and wants to congratulate me, but these two weeks have been nothing about sitting around and being happy I'm in the UFC. It's been 100 percent 'I need to win this fight.' It's been a thousand percent focused on a fight like never before."
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Weidman, a 26-year-old middleweight, fights veteran Italian striker Alessio Sakara (19-7) on the televised portion of UFC on Versus in Louisville, Ky. Welterweights Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann fight in the main event.
Competing mixed martial arts promotions Bellator and Strikeforce extended offers to Weidman (4-0), but he turned them down. He had one goal - and three letters - in mind: UFC.
How Weidman found out about this new life turn is nearly as wild as his past three weeks. He was in a hotel room in New Jersey with training partner Gian Villante, who was making his Strikeforce debut, and ignoring calls from his agent, Ian Parker. Eventually, Weidman picked up his phone. Smart move. Parker was on the other end, waiting to deliver the news of a multifight deal with the UFC to his client.
"Anytime the big show calls, you have to answer," said Matt Serra, Weidman's jiu-jitsu coach and a former UFC welterweight champion. "This is the goal for any up-and-coming MMA fighter."
Weidman earned a name for himself by taking Andre Galvao to overtime at the 2009 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship. He steadily improved, winning the middleweight title in Ring of Combat, a well-respected regional promotion, last September and successfully defending it in December.
But that was the junior varsity. That was selling your own tickets, self-promoting on Facebook and Twitter, coordinating travel arrangements, hoping the Internet broadcaster pronounces your name right. This is the UFC. This is being flown to Louisville, telling friends to buy their own tickets, taping prefight interviews to air in the arena, being on television.
"It was pretty surreal," Weidman said about his prefight interview. "As I was answering some questions, I'm thinking about it and I'm forgetting where I'm at in my question. I'm like, 'Hang on, I have to start over.' It was weird. You got a thousand lights in your face. I got Villante and [Pete] 'Drago' [Sell] over there laughing."