Chris Weidman has traveled across New York in the past four years, campaigning for the chance to work at home.
From the Capitol building in Albany to the atrium of Madison Square Garden, from mixed martial arts gyms in Syracuse to other locations in Rochester and Buffalo, Weidman became a familiar face on the front lines of legalizing MMA in New York.
Yet, it took a 2,245-mile flight from New York to Las Vegas, a city where he experienced his greatest athletic success, to ensure he would be a part of the UFC’s first fight card in New York City. He was there to visit an old friend in Lorenzo Fertitta, the former owner of the UFC, to help work out the details of a new contract before the following day’s press event for UFC 205.
“It was a crazy situation,” Weidman said. “I was in Vegas for about two and a half hours. Watched some of the Presidential debate with him, then we talked business and we worked it out.”
That was a Monday night, and by Tuesday afternoon, he was back in New York City, in the top row of the dais at The Theater at Madison Square Garden for the UFC 205 news conference on Sept. 27.
That unplanned trip, though, came about the night before during a dinner in the city with UFC president Dana White.
“Weidman and I got together, and Weidman and I weren’t seeing eye to eye — and not in a bad way, we just weren’t,” White said. “So I said you know what the right thing to do is, you and Lorenzo need to do this. Lorenzo is his guy. Not that I don’t have a good relationship with Chris, but they were the ones that talked about this.”
Fertitta also was the guy who in a hallway of the Capitol building in Albany in March 2013 told Weidman that he spoke to Anderson Silva the night before and the next title shot was his. The billionaire casino mogul and MMA promoter from Nevada received a championship-caliber hug from the working-class wrestler from Baldwin.
Weidman won that fight at UFC 162 and became champion that July.
Fertitta was the guy who visited Weidman in his hotel room the day after Weidman lost his title to Luke Rockhold in December 2015.
And Fertitta was the guy who spoke with Weidman before that title fight about working on a new contract for him.
Weidman was confused by the initial suggestion from White at last month’s dinner, seeing how Fertitta sold the company in July for $4 billion.
“I’m like, What? He’s not even an owner any more?’” Weidman said. “What are you talking about? Bottom line, I said ‘OK, if that’s what you want, let’s do it.’”
That was less than 48 hours before the scheduled news conference where “the stars of UFC 205” would be in New York City. There were some nice names already scheduled for the card, but not “the stars.”
At that point Sunday night, there was no Conor McGregor vs. champion Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title scheduled. And no prominent New Yorkers signed to fight in the first New York City card for the UFC since the law banning the sport was overturned last March.
“So I called Lorenzo and I said, ‘Time for you to get back to work my brother,’” White said. “ I said whatever you and Lorenzo come up with, I’ll honor.”
The UFC regularly schedules fighters to compete on cards in the home cities, states or countries. Yes, Spanish Harlem’s Lyman Good was on the card already, as was Niagara Falls’ Rashad Evans. But Weidman had been the face of the fight to legalize MMA in New York for several years, so White was keen on making sure he was on the card.
“It was more because he wants it so bad,” White said. “Since the day we talked about getting New York done, Chris has been fired up and wanting to fight here.”
Fertitta and Weidman worked out a new multi-fight deal to complete their unfinished business from before the sale of the company. White called Weidman on the red-eye flight back home to New York to clear up a few minor details. The deal was done, the bout agreement was signed and the hometown kid got his hometown fight.
“I thought I deserved more money. When you lose a title, based on my contract, it went down significantly, which is something I signed,” Weidman said. “But I felt like my market value had gone through the roof since I signed that first contract so it was one of those things where I felt like I deserved more money and I guess they agreed with me so it ended up working out.”
With a deal in place for the foreseeable future, Weidman’s next concern is more immediate. On Nov. 12 at the Garden, he fights Yoel Romero, an Olympic silver medalist in wrestling for Cuba in 2000. This will be the first fight for Romero (11-1, 7-0 UFC) since serving a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. It later was determined by USADA, which administers the UFC’s drug testing program, that Romero had used a tainted supplement, thus reducing his suspension from the mandatory two years to six months.
This will be Weidman’s first fight since losing his title to Rockhold at UFC 194 last December. Weidman (13-1, 9-1) was supposed to fight Rockhold again last June but had to withdraw from the rematch to surgically repair a herniated disc in his neck.
“I have a tough guy in front of me, a very dangerous guy, a really good wrestler who’s powerful, explosive, he’s athletic,” said Weidman, a two-time All-American wrestler at both Hofstra and Nassau CC. “This is the biggest fight of my life. I’m fighting in Madison Square Garden. First time fighting in my home state, in front of my fans and friends and family. This is going to be a huge moment for me. I can’t wait to just go out there and capitalize on it and make the most of this moment.”