Chris Weidman growing into 'global superstar'
LAS VEGAS - Chris Weidman stood on the balcony of his penthouse suite at Palms Place on Saturday morning. He sipped from a cup of coffee and looked out at the Las Vegas Strip. This town has been very good to him in the past year.
Several hours later, the 30-year-old undefeated middleweight champion from Baldwin would be at Mandalay Bay, fighting Lyoto Machida at UFC 175 and creating for himself a star-making night.
"This is definitely the time of my life and I'm trying to soak it all in," Weidman told Newsday.
For five rounds, Weidman and Machida battled, a 25-minute display of heart, will, determination, courage and inner strength to match the physical display of powerful punches and kicks.
By the end of this tango, Weidman had a black eye and a deep purple bruise on the right side of his rib cage, compliments of nasty kicks by Machida in the fourth round. Machida wore Weidman's left hooks and straight rights on his face.
"To see him grow into not just winning the title, but he's a full-fledged champion," UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta told Newsday. "He carries himself like the champion. He has embraced it. He's developing into a global superstar. It's all happening right in front of our eyes."
Much of the discourse with Weidman the past week here focused on his two wins over Anderson Silva last year. That's all they had to go on -- two dominant performances by Weidman over the greatest MMA fighter in history.
Weidman (12-0, 8-0 UFC) left no doubt Saturday night. Again.
"I think it begins the Chris Weidman Era, and the Anderson Silva Era is behind him," Fertitta said. "People start focusing on what Chris has accomplished and what he's going to accomplish next."
First, Weidman will rest and heal from the fight and his training. Weidman entered the fight with injured ligaments in his left hand that prevented him from doing pad work for the last two weeks of camp.
"He threw a jab probably four days ago and he was wincing in pain," trainer Ray Longo said. "It was depressing and we had to regroup."
Weidman adjusted fine during the fight, the adrenaline of the moment helping him forget the pain in his left hand as he landed left hooks and other strikes to Machida's face.
"You're remembered for your wars," said Matt Serra, Weidman's Brazilian jiujitsu instructor and a former UFC welterweight champion. "He made a lot of new fans, I'm sure."
In the 16 months since Fertitta told him about his first title fight in the halls of the Capitol Building in Albany, Weidman transformed from rising visibly uncomfortable in front of cameras and reporters to a champion with personality and the ability to work a room.
Amid the many changes in his life since that time – new home, new management, his name on the gym door, Gucci flip-flops, Rolex watch -- this much remains the same: Chris Weidman the person.
His father, Charlie, was in his corner for a third straight title fight. His fight team stayed intact. His wife and children, his mother and extended family all made the trip. On his way backstage after the fight, he made sure to pull sparring partner Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson from the crowd and bring him along. Weidman puts in the effort to see that his team are taken care of, even as he’s hours away from stepping into the cage to fight a former champion in Machida.
"I think Chris absolutely can become one of, if not the next big superstar," Fertitta said. "He's got all the qualities that you would look for somebody to have that. He's a very exciting fighter . . . He's very articulate and he's just a normal guy."