LAS VEGAS - In his first middleweight title defense against Anderson Silva Saturday night at UFC 168, Chris Weidman prepared for any type of fight imaginable.
Except for this one.
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Early in the second round, Weidman landed a leg kick. Silva returned fire with a left leg kick and immediately collapsed to the ground. His lower leg wrapped around Weidman's lower left leg in a way that it's not intended to, and referee Herb Dean stepped in to end the bout.
The fight was stopped 1 minute, 16 seconds into the second round, and Weidman defeated Silva by technical knockout due to injury at the MGM Grand Garden.
"As soon as I checked it, I knew I checked it right, and he was going to be in a lot of pain," Weidman said. "As soon as he put his foot down and I saw him fall, I knew it was over."
Silva, 38, was carried out of the octagon on a stretcher after doctors tended to him for several minutes.
"We knew that in the last fight, he hurt me most with the leg kicks, so we trained checking them a lot," Weidman said. "The goal is to get your knee up and allow them to make contact with their shin right there. As soon as he hit me with that kick and moved backward, I knew right away. There's no real excitement in a fight finishing like that because you never want to see anyone get hurt like that."
Silva was immediately taken to a local hospital, and UFC orthopedist Dr. Steven Sanders performed surgery on Silva's broken left leg. Silva had an intramedullary rod inserted into his left tibia, according to a statement from the UFC. The broken fibula was stabilized as well and a second surgery will not be necessary, the UFC said.
The way the fight ended surely will lead those who called Weidman's first win a fluke to keep talking. However, Weidman dominated Silva in the first round again and was close to a finish.
Weidman knocked down Silva with a right shot, then worked a good series of significant strikes. Weidman controlled Silva on the ground from then on with his superior wrestling skills.
"I said to him after the first round, 'How does it feel to be the champ?'" trainer Ray Longo said. "'You just fought your first round as champ.'"
It must have felt pretty good because Weidman came out in the second round and looked just as sharp as the first round. He was never once intimidated by Silva, the former champion who could beat a fighter with his mind before ever throwing a punch. Silva earned his status as the greatest of all-time by being very good in the cage with his arms and legs . . . and his mind games.
Silva's showmanship and unorthodox antics confused opponents for years. Not Weidman. Not in the first fight. Not in this second fight either. In fact, early in the first round, Weidman gave Silva a few Silva-esque antics with his arms and legs. They were subtle in their physical movement -- perhaps not even noticeable to fans watching live -- but they spoke volumes as to Weidman's unabashed confidence.
A confidence that grew once he saw Silva collapse and grab his leg. Rather than just lift a leg straight up to block the kick, as many fighters do, Weidman and Longo trained to lift the leg and lean it iinward a bit so that the knee lands on the shin. It's not an easy thing to hit perfectly, but it certainly works as planned when it does land.
Not much nay for the naysayers to say anymore after Weidman beat Silva for the second time in six months.
“I don’t think it’s accidental when you try to check a kick and it works," Weidman said.
Weidman will fight Vitor Belfort next, although no date has been set yet.
When Weidman (11-0, 7-0 UFC) did the unthinkable -- knock out Silva -- last July, it changed the landscape of the middleweight division and the UFC as a whole. The greatest pound-for-pound fighter no longer was invincible. He was demystified by a left hook from a 29-year-old guy from Baldwin.
"I think people haven't connected with me quite yet because I'm still young in this sport," Weidman said. "They don't realize that I've really only been at this a few years and it's always going to take the fans time to adjust to new faces. Soon people will come to terms with the fact that I'm here to stay. I thought I was close to finishing him in the first round. He hit me with a couple good shots, but they didn't hurt. I could've eaten those all day. It didn't matter what he did tonight. Hands up or hands down, I was ready for him."
Weidman's goal Saturday night was, of course, to win the fight. But in the bigger picture, a second win over Silva (33-6, 16-2) -- after no fighter had as many as one since 2006 -- solidified Weidman's position as among the very best in the sport. And that is something no one can deny anymore.
Weidman's approach to this fight was a simple one: "Refuse to lose." To him, it's more than just a phrase that rhymes, more than a slogan on a T-shirt, more than a hashtag on Twitter. It's a complete frame of mind, a way of life for him. He's an extremely competitive person.
"The amount of pressure he puts on himself to be the best, that's just Chris, that's why he's the champion," strength and conditioning coach Jamal Hamid said. "Chris just wants to be the best at whatever he's doing. If we're doing sprints, he wants to win. He's gotta win every sparring match."
Weidman had a full training camp to prepare for Silva. No injuries. No concerns about a surgically repaired shoulder. No worries about where he and his family would be living after superstorm Sandy damaged much of their home in Baldwin Harbor.
Weidman also was only six months removed from his last fight this time, as opposed to being out for a year when they first fought in July.
“It's very satisfying," Weidman said. "I envisioned beating Anderson Silva since the day I got into MMA. I knew I was going to have to beat him more than once. To go out there and do what I've been thinking about doing is satisfying."