LAS VEGAS - On his 365th night as UFC middleweight champion, Chris Weidman assured himself of a few more with that belt above the mantel in his home.
He also quieted anyone who still wanted to question his place atop the middleweight division after he beat Anderson Silva twice last year.
And he did so with an injured left hand.
Weidman and Lyoto Machida staged a spectacular fight Saturday night at UFC 175, full of terrific exchanges on the feet, painful leg kicks, takedowns, takedown defense, momentum swings in the cage and the stands, and 25 minutes of energy inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Weidman won by unanimous decision, with the judges scoring it 49-45, 49-46, 48-47. Weidman won rounds 1, 3 and 5 on all judges’ cards. Machida won round 4 on all cards.
“[Trainer Ray] Longo kept telling me you got another one in the book, another one in the book, another one in the book,” Weidman said. “I was like, ‘I don’t believe you.'"
In between the second and third rounds, Longo stood in front of Weidman, then turned around and pointed at Machida seated in his corner.
“I said he’s already tired, look at him," Longo said.
Gian Villante, a UFC light heavyweight fighter and Weidman's best friend, saw the same and yelled from the corner.
“Look at him," Weidman recalled Villante saying. "I'm watching him, he's tired, he’s tired."
Weidman (12-0, 8-0 UFC) cut off angles very well in the first three rounds. He walked Machida down. He closed that distance that has made Machida a tricky fighter throughout his career.
That pressure negated Machida’s trademark blitzes. Weidman through numerous leg kicks early and also mixed in pushkicks and a strong left hook that connected more than it didn’t.
“To get this fight against a guy like Machida, be undefeated have those two on your resume,” UFC president Dana White said. “I think the fight I’d like to see, that everybody would like to see is Vitor Belfort. Let’s see what happens with Vitor.”
Weidman said he didn’t hit pads for the last two weeks of training camp because of issues with his left hand. He thought it was broken at the time, but he said it was just a ligament issue. He didn’t get deeper into the diagnosis.
Even in the warmup room before the fight, Longo said he didn't do any pad work with his punches.
“He could not hit the focus mitts," Longo said. “He threw a jab probably four days ago and he was wincing in pain. It was depressing and we had to regroup.”
Weidman was supposed to fight at UFC 173 in May but had athroscopic surgery on both knees in April and pushed the fight back to Saturday night.
“It was probably my worst camp ever," Weidman said Saturday. “My knees, I kind of might have started a little too early,”
Machida (21-5) came out firing in the fourth round by landing several hard left leg kicks to Weidman’s right rib cage. By the start of the fifth round, Weidman’s right side was purple from the bruising.
“The plan was to keep the fight standing,” Machida said. “Chris Weidman can punch. He’s the true champion.”
Both fighters, when asked to recall specific moments about the fight, said frequently they'd have to watch the fight again to really know what the answer was to those questions. That's not an uncommon thing.
But Weidman definitely knew during the fight that this five-round bout would be a memorable one.
“it’s kind of surreal, it’s like ‘This is a tough one we’re in here,'" Weidman said. "I wanted to finish him and that’s really what probably makes it exciting is that I was really trying to go for the finish the whole time, looking for different things to do. And he was doing the same thing.”
When Weidman first won the title a year ago, he faced more criticism than any other new UFC champion in recent years. He had beaten a legend in Silva
Weidman then beat Silva again last December via TKO after Silva broke his leg.
Weidman, in the eyes of some nonbelievers, still needed this type of fight, and a victory in it, to solidify his championship. He got it. And he delivered.
"He's so durable and so tough," White said about Weidman. "He got hit with some big shots and kept coming forward. He's a force. He's a force."