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SportsMixed Martial Arts

Long Island’s Chris Weidman returns home looking to regain winning ways

Chris Weidman, the former UFC middleweight champion from Baldwin, headlines UFC Long Island at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday against Kelvin Gastelum. The two held an open workout at UFC Gym in New Hyde Park on Thursday, July 20, 2017. (Credit: Mario Gonzalez) (Credit: Mario Gonzalez)

Something is different with Chris Weidman this week.

It’s not his confidence level, which remains where it always has been — high — through his 13 victories to begin his career and through his subsequent three straight losses.

It’s not his skill level, which also remains where it always has been: above many others.

Then, it must be his longitude. Weidman, the former UFC middleweight champion, grew up in Baldwin, lives in Dix Hills and had to travel all of about 20 minutes to get from the host hotel in Uniondale to Thursday’s open workouts in New Hyde Park ahead of UFC Long Island at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday. Weidman headlines the UFC’s first card on Long Island against Kelvin Gastelum.

“No, it doesn’t feel like a regular fight week,” Weidman said. “My wife kicked me out of the house. She’s like, ‘You gotta live the Spartan life.’ I wanted to stay home. She’s like, ‘No, go.’ ”

Staying in the host hotel is nothing new to Weidman. But, this one is across the street from where he went to college at Nassau CC and then at Hofstra. And it’s around the block from his gym, Longo and Weidman MMA, in Garden City.

“Everything I’m familiar with is here,” Weidman said. “It doesn’t feel normal. It feels comfortable. I know I got a fight in front of me. I know it’s a fight that I have to go out and dominate and win and show everybody who the real Chris Weidman is. It excites me.”

Weidman enters the fight against Gastelum, a former “Ultimate Fighter” winner, having not won a fight in two years. He lost his title to Luke Rockhold in December 2015, then lost to Yoel Romero and Gegard Mousasi.

One person not buying into the notion that Weidman is on the downswing is Gastelum (13-2, 8-2, 1 no contest).

“I feel like he was winning those fights up until whatever happened,” said Gastelum, who has won three fights in a row, the last of which — a first-round TKO of Vitor Belfort — was overturned to a no contest after testing positive for marijuana metabolites. “I still feel he can compete with the best in the world.

“He’s got three losses in a row, which makes him in desperation mode. Anybody that’s desperate is very dangerous.”

For Weidman, fighting in the arena he grew up going to Islanders games at, the one expected to be loaded to the rafters with friends and family and fans on Saturday, will be fun to reflect on — after the fight. There’s business to attend to first.

“I’m laser focused on the job I have to do,” Weidman said. “I have to walk into that cage. No one in that crowd is going to help me with anything with Gastelum. He’s a tough kid who’s going to try to come forward and make a statement with me. And I’m going be right there waiting for him.”

Weidman is the fourth former or current UFC champion Gastelum will have faced. He beat former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, lost a split decision to current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley before he won the title and had his TKO win over Belfort overturned into a no contest.

Gastelum said fighting a former champion makes him train a little differently.

“He’s just one of the best in the world,” Gastelum said, “and I gotta prepare like I’m fighting one of the best in the world, which takes a little bit more effort, takes a little bit more will, a little bit more heart, a little bit more smarts.”

Weidman sounded confident in his ability to rise up and restore himself to the position of champion again, one fight at a time.

“People are going to see on Saturday night who the best guy in the world is,” Weidman said. “I don’t have to say a word. They’re going to watch my performance and they’re going to see who they think the best 185-pounder in the world is.”

New York Sports