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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Weidman wouldn't quit on UFC dream

Chris Weidman punches Alessio Sakara during their middleweight

Chris Weidman punches Alessio Sakara during their middleweight fight at the UFC Live on Versus 3 event at the KFC Yum! Center. (March 3, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Funny thing, this modern medicine stuff.

When the UFC prescribes a multi-fight contract and the chance to debut on television, that whole "cracked ribs" thing kind of heals itself pretty quickly.

That phone call - received in a hotel room in New Jersey before his training partner's debut in Strikeforce - changed Chris Weidman's outlook. The all-American wrestler from Baldwin and top prospect in mixed martial arts had just decided to shut down his training and let his body heal.

Brrrrring! Brrrrring! Oh, hello, UFC. Sure, a fight in 19 days sounds great.

"I was overwhelmed, I didn't know what to do," Weidman said. "I'm hurt, I'm out, but I can't give up this opportunity."

No, he couldn't. Especially after he turned down offers from Strikeforce and Bellator. Offers that would have put money in his pocket sooner, money in the bank to help support his wife and 1-year-old daughter, money that could help get him and his family out of his parents' basement apartment in Baldwin.

Weidman is an aggressive fighter who keeps pushing forward. That's what he did with his career decision-making, too. Rather than settle for quick cash and be locked in for several years, Weidman kept striving for what he wanted. Noble move for a young father and husband. Gutsy, too.

His decision paid off Thursday night when he dominated veteran Italian striker Alessio Sakara on the ground and won by unanimous decision at UFC on Versus 3 in Louisville.

"I really didn't know how I was going to fare against a top striker on our feet," Weidman said. "Once I felt him give me his best punches and I rolled them, I got confidence, started punching back and I felt fine."

Fighters rarely admit to a lack of confidence. But for Weidman, young in both years (26) and fights (5), it's understandable. Add in that while training on such short notice for the big stage, he did little in the way of taking advantage of the first word of his sport - "mixed."

That cracked rib prevented Weidman from sparring. From wrestling. From practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Weidman's trainers, Ray Longo and former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, devised a regimen that avoided hurting his ribs and focused mainly on cardio conditioning and hitting the pads.

"I'm the type of guy, I come from a wrestling background, I need to go hard 100 percent to feel like I'm ready" Weidman said. "It was a struggle to stay confident, and I just had to believe in my coaches."

His coaches have walked the same path. Longo has trained Serra for more than 10 years. Serra knows the ins and outs of fight night in the UFC, how bright the lights are, how loud the crowds are, how Bert Watson will be backstage yelling out how much time you have left before your entrance walk. It's the perfect example of a young fighter surrounding himself with the right people.

Longo has been in similar injury situations before with his fighters, too. Serra tore his biceps before his fight against Kelly Dullanty at UFC 36 in 2002. Luke Cummo had a separated shoulder before the Season 2 finale of "The Ultimate Fighter" against Joe Stevenson in 2005.

"I was definitely hesitant about it, but if he wanted to do it, I'm there to back him," Longo said. "As a trainer, of course I want my guy at 100 percent, but as a trainer, I have to do what I can to get him ready."

He's ready.


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