Chris Weidman emerged on the basketball court at Madison Square Garden with Gian Villante, Ray Longo and the happiness exuded from his face.
That exuberance trickled down to his feet as he briefly moonwalked on the hardwood while wearing his slides, then flossed, then offered a third dance step. The Baldwin-raised Weidman played to the small crowd attending Wednesday’s UFC 230 open workouts.
What the crowd reacted to was a confident Weidman, a Weidman who for the first time in three years comes into a fight off a win rather than a loss.
“Coming off a win feels way better,” Weidman said after his workout. “Because you already know. You don’t question yourself. I already know what I’m capable of.”
Weidman (14-3), a former middleweight champion, fights Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, in the co-main event Saturday at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden. Heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier defends his title against Derrick Lewis in the main event.
Weidman last fought in July 2017 when he submitted Kelvin Gastelum at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. That ended a three-fight losing streak for the once-undefeated, undisputed champion. It also brought about the conclusion of much self-doubt.
“It was the highest of highs, then to hit the lowest of lows, [losing] three fights in a row,” Weidman said. “It affects your confidence, and confidence is everything in this game.”
There was soul searching since that December 2015 night when Weidman lost the title to Luke Rockhold. And more the following April in a controversial loss to Gegard Mousasi. That inner voice — and the external sounds of MMA media and fans — grew louder in November 2016 with a third-round knockout loss to Yoel Romero.
“Just because they compounded as three [in a row],” Weidman said, “that doesn’t all of a sudden define me as a bad fighter.”
Weidman, 34, said it was “mentally draining” to block out all the negative noise heading into the Gastelum fight last summer.
That’s gone now as Weidman, the No. 3 ranked middleweight in the UFC, prepares to face No. 5 Souza, who lost a split decision to Gastelum last May. Weidman was supposed to fight No. 2 Luke Rockhold before an injury two weeks ago caused the switch. Souza, 38 and a former world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, had been scheduled to face No. 7 David Branch of Brooklyn at UFC 230. Branch now will face Jared Cannonier.
“I had to make some adjustments to my game,” said Souza (25-6, 1 NC). “He’s a great jiu-jitsu guy, he’s a great wrestling guy, so I had to work on that part, takedown defense and takedowns in jiu-jitsu as well.”
Weidman said he was told that if he beats Souza, he would be the replacement fighter should Gastelum not be able to fight reigning champion Robert Whittaker as planned early next year. That would keep in line with Weidman’s attitude since he first lost a fight: Get the belt back. Winning a rematch against any of the three fighters who beat him would be nice, but that’s secondary to the title.
“As much as that’s important to me, it doesn’t come close to having that UFC belt, and, uh, making lots of money,” Weidman said. “The UFC belt is where it’s at. The UFC belt is what I want.”