Long Island's Weidman: UFC champ, but 'he's the same Chris'

Watch Baldwin native Chris Weidman as he prepares to fight UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 162 in Las Vegas. Videojournalist: Mario Gonzalez (July 6, 2013)

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Quick snapshot of the past six months for new UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman: new house, new neighborhood, new gym, VIP plane rides, world tours, new car, new tax bracket, new business opportunities, new people pitching him ideas, and a camera crew documenting nearly every moment of training camp.

And, yes, a day named after him in Nassau County.

That's quite a significant lifestyle alteration in half a year.

Enough to perhaps throw a new wrinkle into the personality of a 29-year-old who had been living in his parents' basement apartment in Baldwin with his wife and child just two years earlier and who returned to that basement for a time after his home was damaged in superstorm Sandy?

Not a chance.

"You really test a guy's character -- not when he was nothing, but when he's on top of the world," said Matt Serra, his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor and cornerman the past six years. "Then you see what some guys are made of. I've seen guys with lesser exposure and popularity let stuff get to their head. He's a young guy, the champ, did the impossible, and he's the same guy. Good guy, family guy. He's the same Chris."

Life indeed changed when Weidman landed that left hook to the jaw of Anderson Silva on a hot summer night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on July 6. He did what no one had ever done, knock out Silva -- and in a place Silva had never lost, the UFC. Weidman (10-0) will try to repeat that performance Saturday night at UFC 168 in his first title defense against the same opponent at the same venue in the same city.

How has he managed to stay grounded and remain the same person he was on July 5?

"My wife," Weidman said. "If I came home and started thinking who I am and started thinking I'm better than everybody, it wouldn't last too long."

And then there's trainer Ray Longo and the guys at the gym to squash any sort of hullabaloo. Once or twice would be OK -- maybe -- but any more than that would be greeted with a fast reality check.

That's part of the charm of the Serra-Longo fight team -- a group of people working together bound not by the ink of a legal document but by the grip of a handshake.

"I never left Long Island," said Weidman, who now lives in Dix Hills. "I see everybody I grew up with, all the kids I went to high school with. I can't just change."

Longo has been down this championship road before. He guided Serra to the UFC welterweight title upset over Georges St-Pierre six years earlier. The two have served not just as fight trainers to Weidman, but life coaches as well, helping to point out the false people, the out-of-the-woodwork business venture hucksters and such.

"We got stardom on a certain level, fame and a lot of accolades," Longo said. "I think we just enjoy what we're doing and we don't look at it like anything special. I think everybody puts their family first and we know there's other things besides MMA."

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