If Chris Weidman makes a big statement against Mark Munoz, he wants a shot at the UFC middleweight championship.
Chris Weidman’s rise up the UFC’s middleweight totem pole has been faster than the cannonball Long Island Rail Road train that runs from New York City to Montauk. He’s 8-0 in his MMA career (4-0 in the UFC), with five wins coming in the first round. He earned points for taking a main-card bout on national television against a top-tier opponent – on 10 days notice and forced to drop 32 pounds. He’s a two-time All-American wrestler at Hofstra University – owner of collegiate victories over young UFC light-heavyweights Phil Davis and Ryan Bader, the former an NCAA Division I champion at Penn State – and the finest mixed martial artist to come out of Long Island since Matt Serra wiped out Georges St. Pierre five years ago to become UFC welterweight champion.
And for the first time in his brief UFC career, Weidman is bequeathed the honor of a main-event fighter. He enters Wednesday’s UFC on FUEL 4 card a favorite against Mark Munoz, another former NCAA champion who many consider one win from a shot at Anderson Silva. Virtually all fighters are asked if a certain bout with particular ramifications is the "biggest" of his career. Weidman, though, knows what’s at stake. In Munoz (12-2) he’s indeed facing his greatest challenge to date, one who’s won four straight since a close loss to Yushin Okami and whose wrestle will wipe you out, or striking will turn out your lights.
Weidman arrived to San Jose, Calf., with a full understanding of how many doors a win will open. He says he’s kept everything in perspective and the claim is easy to believe. He graduated Hofstra with a B.A. in Psychology. In the classroom his studies helped him understand how the brain works and how it’s important in sports, especially individual sports and wrestling, and became adept at reading people and the science of managing his own emotions. He’s not caught up in the magnitude of what’s at stake, but that doesn’t make Weidman oblivious. Confidence is high at the Serra-Ray Longo Academy that Weidman’s grinding, in-your-face approach would give Silva fits. And while the odds are against Weidman becoming the No. 1 contender if he defeats Munoz, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility either.
A victory derails the "Filipino Wrecking Machine." A decisive one further shines Weidman’s resume and may cash in the favor he did for the UFC when he took the fight with Demian Maia at UFC on FOX 2. No promises or assurances were made, but Weidman is thinking big. He wants to prove himself worthy of sharing Octagon space with the Spider – and wants it now.
"If I make a big statement I definitely do want the title shot. I feel like I deserve it," Weidman said. "If not, definitely the No. 1 contender's spot to fight for. But I have to prove myself against Mark Munoz first."
Each time Weidman was pushed beyond his limits, he’s passed the test. The hell of the 32-in-10 experience still resides deep within his psyche. He lived on peanut butter and at times was in a state of delirium. He once passed out after spending 15 minutes in a sauna, cutting a mere tenth of a pound. Against Maia, Weidman’s flesh was screaming for mercy. That’s when Ray Longo begged for five more minutes and Weidman refused to lose. Even though the fight wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to the eye, one must have the understanding of the prior 10 days.
"From an outsider's view it wasn't the most impressive victory. The way I look at it, it helped me psychologically afterwards," Weidman said. "[Maia] was top five at that point. He's been a contender. He went five rounds with Anderson Silva. I'm not being sarcastic, but I was probably at 10-20 percent of what I can be. I literally was just in a bad spot and I was able to push through to get a 'W' literally on heart.
"It's not going to make my next fight with Mark Munoz any easier thinking that, but it's definitely something that makes me a better person and maybe a better fighter, and giving myself more faith in myself. You never want to walk away from that match thinking maybe you mentally defeated yourself. I'm not going to mentally beat myself. I'm going in there confident and whatever happens happens."
Weidman’s faith and skill must guard against Munoz’s relentless ground game that took him to an NCAA title for Oklahoma State in 2001, in addition to vicious striking that’s resulted in half of his wins by knockout or TKO, the last a blasting of Chris Leben last November that forced the Crippler’s corner to wave the white flag after the second round.
"I'm not hoping for any specific position," Weidman said. "I'm ready to be in the worst position and fight my way out of it a million times over, to be mentally and physically tough for a five-round fight."
Weidman has gotten this far this fast, a journey that’s surpassed even his wildest expectations, by making sacrifices including short notice fights, one with the weight cut, and facing a tough collection of opponents. "I'm happy I took those sacrifices and obviously it paid off, but it's not a fun battle," he said. "But it's why I'm here where I'm at. This is where I want to be and I really hope I make the most of it."
That wicked weight cut is behind him, and Weidman says he will never do it again. He’s had the benefit of a full camp, so he’ll enter the Octagon at 100 percent capacity and armed with a couple of positive trends. Momentum comes in the form of an infant son brought into the world on June 7. Historical precedence is the fact that every full camp Weidman’s had has resulted in a first-round finish. A win over Munoz won’t guarantee anything tangible, but his status as an elite fighter will warrant no debate and the national media will be scrambling to place his story on its editorial calendars.
"I'm hoping to keep that stretch going," Weidman said. "I want to try to make my statement in this fight and set myself ahead of the pack."
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC