Chris Weidman used to know what it took to be successful in the UFC — wins.
Now, he’s not so sure that’s enough.
The former middleweight champion from Baldwin was at Nassau Coliseum to get a glimpse of renovations on Tuesday and is on track for a return to competition at the UFC’s Madison Square Garden debut on Nov. 12. But, he’ll return to a division and promotion in flux since he surrendered the belt to Luke Rockhold last December. Rockhold has since lost to Michael Bisping, who replaced an injured Weidman at UFC 199 in June.
“It was kind of bittersweet,” Weidman said of watching Bisping upset Rockhold at UFC 199. “I envisioned myself being able to knock out Luke, and to see Bisping go out and do in the first round, it was nice to see Luke get humbled a bit and see him get beat up, but on the other hand I wish it was me.”
Weidman was hoping he’d get a shot to regain his title against Bisping but was disappointed when the UFC chose a rematch between Bisping and Dan Henderson for UFC 204 in October. The pair previously fought at UFC 100 when Henderson knocked out Bisping in spectacular fashion. Now, though, Henderson is ranked No. 12 in the middleweight division and has largely struggled since returning to the promotion in 2011.
“Now that it’s set, I don’t want to cry like a baby over it, but at the time when they were deciding what they were going to do, I thought it was ridiculous,” Weidman said. “I still think it’s ridiculous that they made it.”
Weidman said he has plenty of respect for what Henderson has accomplished in his career but doesn’t feel his recent resume is up to par compared to others in the division.
“He’s had such a great career, he’s a journeyman, amazing Hall-of-Fame fighter,” Weidman said. “But he’s 46 years old, he’s lost four of his last six fights, he’s lost six of his last nine fights and four of them were from stoppage.
“If you’re going by rankings and going by people that deserve it based on what they’ve accomplished in recent years, there’s no question that he doesn’t deserve it, and I think he’d be the first to tell you that he doesn’t, but the UFC just made it happen.”
The decision didn’t sit well with Weidman not just because it may have cost him a title shot this time, but what it could mean for himself and others down the road.
“I don’t understand, is this like a sport where people go through playoffs and win a championship, or is this purely entertainment where the UFC can pick whoever they feel like picking that day?” Weidman said. “So it’s frustrating as a fighter because you don’t know what you need to do to earn yourself that title shot.”
Weidman said it is a very confusing time in MMA, only made more uncertain by the UFC’s recent $4 billion sale to WME-IMG, and that fighters have been left in the dark on much of the change.
“I know they say not much is really going to change, but when you get people who put $4 billion into a company, there are some things they’re going to want to do differently,” Weidman said. “I don’t know what direction things are going to go, but we shall see soon.”
The direction lately has been toward the big-money fight instead of just title fights, whether it be Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor at UFC 202 or the return of Brock Lesnar at UFC 200. Weidman would be happy to take a big-money fight like that, but he also sees the value a title belt brings.
“Listen, I’ve got to provide for my family, and the biggest money fights are usually when you’re the champion, that’s the only reason why the championship means so much at this point is so I can get my belt back and get pay-per-views and a percentage of the card,” Weidman said. “Or, if they want to do big-money fights, I have to do one-offs, sign a contract for that big, huge fight, let’s say if I want to fight Anderson Silva, let’s do a one-fight deal and pay me a lot of money. I have no problem with big-money fights.”
For now, all Weidman can do is ready himself for UFC 205.
The former Hofstra wrestler says he is completely healthy after undergoing a rare, non-invasive neck surgery in June that allowed him to be back in time for the Nov. 12 event at MSG. (No official fight has been announced yet.) He’s still having his neck worked on by physical therapists and strength trainers but has been good to go since mid-July and has been thinking of potential matchups for his Garden debut.
“If I were to pick somebody it would be Rockhold, get the revenge in the big fight at MSG, but I have a feeling that’s not going to happen,” Weidman said. “We’ve got Jacare [Souza], I think that makes sense, Yoel Romero possibly. I mean, it’s my first fight ever in New York, I want the biggest fight possible, that’s most important.”
Of course, there might be a pit stop along the way. Asked if he’d back off the New York card if called upon as an injury replacement for Henderson at UFC 204, Weidman says he’d “absolutely” take the title shot in Manchester, England.
“I go get my belt back and then I fight a month later in New York,” Weidman said, “because I know Bisping can’t put a scratch on me.”