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UFC 205: Hometown fighters get acclimated to event in New York City

Chris Weidman speaks to the media during the

Chris Weidman speaks to the media during the UFC 205 Ultimate Media Day at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 9, 2016. Credit: Getty Images / Michael Reaves

Every fighter this week in New York City has been asked the same question. And they’ve all given the same answer.

Yes, it’s pretty much awesome that the UFC finally, after an eight-year legal fight, is here in New York City for UFC 205. And there’s the “dream come true” quote about being able to fight at Madison Square Garden where boxing legends long-ago established a history in this city and this venue, regardless of its address or appearance.

But those are the out-of-towners. The ones who flew into New York to compete on an MMA fight card unlike any other in the promotion’s exact 23-year history. (Saturday’s UFC 205 comes 23 years to the day the UFC first debuted with UFC 1 in Denver, Colorado).

The hometown guys, while yes, it’s cool to fight at home and have their dreams come true, felt something different as well when fight week began.

“I’m driving in to a hotel, going to a room across the street from where I train a lot at Renzo Gracie’s. It’s just weird,” said Chris Weidman, the former UFC middleweight champion who grew up in Baldwin and now lives in Dix Hills. “I’m settling in there. I’m not in Vegas. It doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like I’m fighting this week.”

He is, against Yoel Romero in a pivotal bout that likely will determine the next middleweight title contender for champion Michael Bisping.

Weidman hasn’t fought this close to his home since his last Ring of Combat fight in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Dec. 3, 2010. With the UFC, he’s fought in Kentucky, Vancouver, San Jose twice, Chicago and the last five times in Las Vegas.

The week’s events — which basically are the same events wherever the UFC goes — helped Weidman acclimate a bit.

“Now, it’s starting to feel a little bit more like fight week,” he said Wednesday at UFC 205 media day. “Doing these interviews, coming here, dressing up in a suit, cutting weight. But other than that, it just feels so calming and what I’m used to being here. It doesn’t feel like I’m getting ready to fight.”

Weidman wasn’t alone in adjusting to New York City as a fight city.

“When I’m walking around, it almost doesn’t feel like fight week because I just feel like I’m just in the city doing my thing,” said former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, who fights Jeremy Stephens at featherweight on the prelims on Fox Sports 1. “But once I get those hands moving, it’s fight week.”

Ray Longo, who coached Weidman to the title in 2013 as he did Matt Serra six years earlier, said things felt a little confusing at times between taking the Long Island Rail Road in and out of the city a couple times in a day for various events, as opposed to past fights where he has a hotel room for the duration of fight week.

But come fight night, when Longo is inside Madison Square Garden cornering Weidman, he knows exactly what it will feel like: “It’s going to be the icing on the cake for what I’ve been doing all these years.”


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