Simply by stepping foot on the arena floor, Chris Weidman brought the home crowd to its feet with a crescendoing mix of cheers and screams and hand gestures inside Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night.
“Indescribable,” Weidman said.
Staying emotionless through that walkout was far from easy for the former UFC middleweight champion from Baldwin.
“As much as I love my Long Islanders, I gotta walk to the octagon, I gotta do my job, then afterwards, I’m going to pour my heart out to you guys because I love them so much,” Weidman said. “But on my way out there, I wasn’t slaping hands. I was focused, I was gonna stay relaxed and composed, and afterwards I was going to be celebrating.
And with his vintage performance, Weidman gave the people what they came for: The opportunity to see their homecoming king stand tall once more. He also managed to silence a few critics Saturday night.
Weidman defeated Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of UFC Long Island, ending his three-fight losing streak and earning his first victory in 791 days. He submitted Gastelum via arm triangle choke at the 3:35 mark in the third round.
“Bro, I did it in Nassau Coliseum,” Weidman said. “I literally saw kids I went to elementary school with on the way to the octagon and I gave them all my heart on the way out. It was incredible.”
Of the six Long Island-based fighters on the card at the Coliseum, only Weidman and Islip’s Chris Wade won.
Weidman (14-3) had the better of the first round early as he landed several straight rights down the middle on Gastelum, as well as a takedown midway through the round.
But Gastelum, a southpaw, was able to drop Weidman at the end of the first round with a left and landed a few more punches as the round came to an end.
“I wanted 30 more seconds in there,” Gastelum said.
Weidman was able to use his superior wrestling skills — he was a two-time All-American at both Nassau CC and Hofstra — to dominate the second round. He clung to Gastelum and didn’t let him get loose. When Gastelum (14-3) got to his feet, Weidman took him back down.
In the third round, Weidman dropped Gastelum to start, but he got back up. Weidman later connected with a big uppercut that rocked Gastelum and followed with a flurry. Gastelum was able to dodge a few punches and withstand the ones that landed before Weidman got him to the floor and worked toward the submission.
“There’s points where you conserve your energy, you’re taking your time, then all of a sudden you decide that this is the time to spend your energy, this is the time to go hard because you got something locked up,” Weidman said. “That was the moment where I was like, I got him.”
Weidman was the bigger fighter — a five-inch height advantage and a seven-inch reach advantage — yet Gastelum was the betting favorite this week.
“This feels like I won a championship,” Weidman said. “Coming off some losses, I had to bite my lip, bite my tongue. I didn’t want my words doing the talking. I wanted to come out here and prove myself, do what all my coaches believed I could do, and to come out here and do it.”
There was a time — just over two years ago — when a victory for Weidman was commonplace. It was expected. He won his first 13 professional bouts, a run that included a title-winning knockout of Anderson Silva, considered one of, if not the greatest MMA fighter ever, followed by a win in the rematch and subsequent title defenses against former champions Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort.
Then he threw a spinning back kick against Luke Rockhold in December 2015. From that moment, Rockhold took control of the fight and left with Weidman’s title. Weidman then lost to Yoel Romero by knockout and to Gegard Mousasi by TKO.
“They see these three losses, people forget I was 9-0. I was fighting Anderson Silva, I was fighting the best guys this sport has ever seen one after the other with no experience,” Weid man said. “I hit adversity when I was on top of the world. Most people hit adversity when they’re just in the beginning, they’re just getting started. I hit it when everybody was watching, and everybody had comments and everybody was doubting me.”