LAS VEGAS — In October at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City, Ian Matuszak received his blue belt in jiu-jitsu from Pete “Drago” Sell.
On Friday, Matuszak received a black T-shirt, a Reebok warmup suit and an impressive surprise from UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. After the UFC 194 weigh-ins at MGM Grand Garden Arena, Weidman handed Matuszak his fight kit and said these words: “I don’t know if you know this, but you’re gonna be walking out with me, so you’re gonna need an outfit.”
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Matuszak’s immediate reaction . . . well, we can’t publish that here, but let’s just say he was very excited.
Trainer Ray Longo then embraced Matuszak and said, “You’re an official team member.”
Matuszak then offered Weidman some advice for Saturday night’s title defense against Luke Rockhold: Avoid his kicks.
Matuszak, from Westbury, was born with cerebral palsy and also was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September.
Weidman said he spoke to Reed Harris of the UFC to see what would be possible. Weidman offered to pay all the costs, as well, but Harris said the UFC would pick up the tab of bringing Matuszak and his family to Las Vegas.
“He’s got bad news after bad news,” Weidman told Newsday. “I love that kid, I love his family.”
Matuszak, 20, began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Dave Patton and Sell, black belts under Matt Serra, a former UFC welterweight champion.
He since has befriended those in the gym and on the mats, including Weidman and fellow fighters Al Iaquinta, Aljamain Sterling, Eddie Gordon and Gian Villante, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Renzo Gracie.
“I don’t know, I just thought about him, like you know what, I’d love for him to come out here,” Weidman said. “I know he’d love to be out here, and imagine him being able to walk me out to the fight.”
So, yes, as Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” blasts through the speakers at the arena, Matuszak will follow along in his wheelchair as Weidman, Serra and Longo make that walk to the octagon.
“You don’t have a person do that for another person, especially because it’s such a big pay-per-view, that almost seemed impossible,” Matsuzak said. “But he took the time to come out here and talk to me, it’s so great.”
It will be an amazing moment for Matuszak, who arrived in Las Vegas on Friday shortly before weigh-ins, one he can’t quite imagine right now but can replay over and over in his head Monday as he goes through another round of chemotherapy back on Long Island.
“To walk out with Chris in front of a sold-out crowd, no, not really, but I’m super excited,” Matuszak said.
“To get him to this position, to have that power, means a lot,” Weidman said. “I know he’s going to be pumped.”
Equally proud of Chris Weidman’s good-heartedness was the man who helped mold him, his father Charlie.
“If you are able to achieve such success that you reach the top of the mountain,” Charlie Weidman said, “but if you’re at the top of the mountain and you’re alone and you’re not serving anyone else, what was the point of the journey?”