MMA fans already know Chris Weidman is fighting at UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. His family and friends know, too.
But to passers-by of billboards and fight posters, there’s no such indication of the former middleweight champion from Baldwin competing in his home state for the first time since the sport’s ban was overturned. To watchers of commercials and promotional spots, there perhaps is a second or two of his face or name on display, provided it’s the right clip and you didn’t blink or sneeze.
Those marquee positions on the sides of buildings for the eyes of a bustling city and a fan base enthralled by the actuality of a mixed martial arts event in New York City after eight years of being told no by elected officials belong to other fighters this time around. Three championship fights among the other bouts at UFC 205 will do that to a guy, especially when one of the them includes the sport’s biggest star in Conor McGregor.
“Obviously not ideal,” said the No. 2 ranked Weidman, who faces No. 4 Yoel Romero. “I’d like to be fighting for the championship belt and of course being on the poster is always a positive thing. But it’s the reality of the situation when you lose a fight. You’re not fighting for a title anymore. It’s extra motivation to get back to where I’ve been.”
Yes, this fight is different for Weidman (13-1, 9-1 UFC). He’s never before entered the Octagon after a loss. He won’t be in the black Reebok fight shorts reserved for the champion. There are no UFC cameras following him around for their “Embedded” series. He’ll be fighting a few hours earlier than normal. And the fight is scheduled for three rounds rather than the usual five for championship and main-event bouts.
Seems like a load off those 32-year-old shoulders, you know, except for the part about facing a former Olympic silver medalist on a seven-fight win streak hungry for his own turn in the spotlight.
“There’s no pressure off,” he said. “I need to get back up to the top. I need to get that belt back, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out there and dominate and kind of separate myself from these guys just like the plan always was.”
That plan came to fruition on July 6, 2013, when Weidman knocked out Anderson Silva, one of the greatest MMA fighters ever, to win the middleweight title. He beat Silva in the rematch that December, then defended the belt twice more by beating Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort. His three consecutive title defenses is the second longest in UFC middleweight history, trailing only Silva’s UFC record 10 straight.
Weidman lost his title to Luke Rockhold last December via technical knockout in the fourth round at UFC 194 in Las Vegas. It was the first time Weidman had been dominated in 14 professional MMA fights.
In Romero (11-1, 7-0), Weidman faces an Olympic freestyle wrestler with a unique striking approach. Romero, 39, was facing a two-year suspension after a doping violation. It was reduced to six-month suspension since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency determined a supplement Romero took was tainted.
“He’s a dangerous guy,” Weidman said. “He’s a well-rounded guy. He’s strong, so he brings a lot to the table. I just have to be myself, go out there, move forward, pressure him and make it a fight.
“I don’t want to lose again, I’ll tell you that much.”