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Chris Weidman's hard work pays off as he retains UFC middleweight title

From the gym to the sauna, from the hotel room to the Octagon, Newsday chronicled Baldwin's Chris Weidman in Las Vegas as he prepared to defend his title against Anderson Silva at UFC 168 on Dec. 28, 2013.

LAS VEGAS - As Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, with this city's famous Strip at his back and the world at his fingertips, Chris Weidman flashed smile after smile as he posed for photos with fans and family at his UFC 168 afterparty.

Two hours earlier, Weidman successfully defended his middleweight title with a second-round TKO of Anderson Silva at UFC 168. Weidman used his knee to block a kick from Silva, who broke his left leg on impact.

It was a rare way to see a fight end, but for the Baldwin-raised Weidman, it was the culmination of months of training. It made every ache and nagging pain go away, made every weight-sucking trip to the sauna worth each bead of sweat.

On Thursday evening, Weidman weighed 196 pounds, 11 pounds above the middleweight limit. He and his team went to an area gym around 11:30 p.m. and stayed past 1 a.m. In between, Weidman dropped nearly eight pounds.

"I try to get the most off when I have energy the night before," said Weidman, 29. "And then the next day hopefully leave me with no more than four pounds to go."

When he returned to the gym Friday afternoon, Weidman weighed 188.6 pounds.

"No matter how light you are all camp, no matter how good you feel going up to that point, that's the worst part, those last couple pounds," training partner and UFC light heavyweight Gian Villante said. "Even if it's just one pound, it's just always hell."

Weidman wore a rubber suit under his sweatshirt and pants. On his head, he had a wool hat, a blank stare and a calm demeanor. Even as he and his team cracked jokes, there was an air of business about hitting pads with Ray Longo, riding the stationary bike and sweating in the sauna with Villante and strength coach Jamal Hamid. There were those few silly pounds to shed before defending a title.

Two hours later, Weidman hit the scale at 184 pounds at the official UFC weigh-ins. Rehydration began next, as did some relaxation and time with family. The Team Weidman dinner at a swanky steakhouse started well after 10 p.m.

Saturday morning began with sprints in the parking garage at his hotel "to get that first sweat of the day" and "to open up his lungs," Hamid said. Then the breakfast of a champion -- an English muffin with almond peanut butter.

"December 28th is finally here. It's time to go out there and do what I've been saying I can do," Weidman said. "It's been a long time coming, this fight. You think about it every day, but then you get to go to the gym and just work out. Now I'm thinking about it again, but the reality of it actually being here is crazy."

Weidman woke up thinking about his fight against Silva (33-6, 16-2), the man considered the greatest MMA fighter ever. It would be the second time they fought in six months.

There's an advantage to already having been in the cage with Silva, a sense of his power, speed, tactics and antics that you can watch on video but can't fully understand until you're face-to-face with him.

But familiarity with the opponent doesn't change one key fact: It's fight day, and that's unsettling. "The nerves you feel on fight day are completely different from any other day you can ever have," Weidman said. 'It's a crazy, crazy feeling knowing that you're about to get locked in a cage in front of millions of people around the world and this is considered the biggest fight of all time and it's me."

Weidman found his comfort zone Saturday afternoon: his wife, their two children and his extended family. His father, Charlie, was in his corner again Saturday night and led the group in prayer beforehand.

"I need to feel the people that truly love me, I need to have them around," Weidman said. "It makes me feel at peace."

Weidman left the family suite at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday. He walked out of that room to the sound of those who love him unconditionally chanting his name. And he walked out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena to that same sound from the same people -- still a champion in the world's eyes, still just Chris in theirs.

New York Sports