The feel of failure comes with uncomfortability.
Former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman failed for the first time in his mixed martial arts career in December, and he did so on the biggest stage — a pay-per-view event with the largest gate in UFC history for a non-stadium show.
“Everywhere I go, especially for the first time, it’s awkward when you see people because people are awkward around you because they don’t know how to react,” Weidman said Friday afternoon at his gym in Garden City. “It’s almost like going to a funeral and when you have to go up to the family and give your condolences. It’s always awkward. You don’t know really what to say because nothing’s going to make them feel better.”
The morning after losing his title and perfect record by fourth-round technical knockout against Luke Rockhold at UFC 194, Weidman had to confront the toughest encounter of all.
With his face bruised, swollen and stitched back together, Weidman needed to be the one to tell his daughter, 5, and son, 3, that Daddy didn’t win.
“When they came to my room, I had to let them know,” Weidman said.
Here, his voice changed a bit.
“It was very emotional,” Weidman said. “They see my face all beat up, obviously, that’s hard for them, and then to tell them I lost, it was . . . ”
His words tailed off. His volume, too.
“They’re just like, ‘What do you mean you lost? You don’t lose,’ ” Weidman continued. “Then right away, it’s like, ‘OK, Daddy. You’re going to beat him next time.’ ”
That next time also could be Weidman’s next fight. Yoel Romero was the likely next title contender for Rockhold, but earlier this month, he was notified by USADA of a potential anti-doping violation. (USADA runs UFC’s drug-testing program.) Last Tuesday, the UFC announced that Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Vitor Belfort, two viable title contenders, will fight each other in Brazil in May. That leaves one legitimate title contender available for Rockhold (15-2) to face in his first defense.
“I want a rematch,” said Weidman (13-1). “I just want to go out there and do what I know that I can do to him and show the world who I really am and that wasn’t me that night.”
Weidman looked tired and sluggish against Rockhold in his fourth title defense. He saw some success against Rockhold early, but the third round made the biggest difference.
Weidman missed on a spinning back kick. Rockhold took down Weidman, got into top mount and began a barrage of punches in the final 60 seconds that nearly stopped the fight.
“There was a couple times where an elbow slipped through and I’m like, ‘Oh, that probably cut me, that probably hurt,’ ” Weidman said. “And the last couple seconds when he tried to finish the fight, he hit me with some good shots around the ear and it kind of knocked the balance off me when I got up. That bothered me. After the third round, after that happening, I think that took it out of me. My balance was gone, I was tired.”
Weidman said things didn’t feel right from the beginning. He said he had “issues” but was careful to not elaborate. “I’ve been very conscious of trying not to make any excuses,” Weidman said. “He was the better man that night.”
Instead, Weidman explained the emotions of the night.
“I just didn’t feel the excitement and energy I’m used to feeling walking to the cage,” Weidman said. “Hugging my coaches goodbye, as I walked into the cage, touching gloves, it just felt very awkward and weird for some reason.”
Weidman always possessed the confidence needed to succeed in such a grueling sport. The four-time All-American wrestler in college said he’s more confident in himself than ever before in his six-year MMA career. He needed this loss, he said, to reach a higher level as a fighter.
Weidman has watched the fight several times. It was hard at first, he said, but with each viewing, he gains a new perspective.
“He has to know he hit me with every single thing he could possibly do,” Weidman said. “In the most dominant position, he still couldn’t put me away.”