You don't have to be a longtime mixed martial arts fan to know that "the next big thing" ends up struggling to stick with the UFC more often than he wins a title.
For every one Jon Jones out there, there are five or six Houston Alexanders.
This truism is relevant anywhere within the confines of the sport, but it is perhaps best illustrated in the UFC's 185-pound division. It isn't that the UFC's middleweight stable of fighters has a particularly high concentration of "next big things," but rather what the promises of future greatness in that specific location mean.
In addition to the same lofty expectations any hyped-up fighter must contend with, UFC middleweight up-and-comers are charged with dethroning Anderson Silva—a task that demands a higher level of greatness than most others.
Nate Marquardt was supposed to have the style to beat Silva, as was Thales Leites, Demian Maia and Chael Sonnen. Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami were also considered dark horses to do the impossible, but they failed miserably, just like the rest.
Even if usurpation has never been the dominant prophecy, each time a middleweight has found himself on the precipice of facing Silva, a considerable portion of the masses have thrown their lot in with the challenger, despite continued lessons that this is not the best of ideas.
Even now people continue to forecast Silva's doom. This time, they are looking toward a fighter who is not yet officially knocking on the champ's door. This time, people are throwing their lot in with Chris Weidman.
Whether Weidman can defeat Silva in the near future remains to be seen, but predicting the outcome of that theoretical fight is not the purpose of this article. The purpose of this article is to explain why Chris Weidman will end up with a career closer to Jon Jones' than Houston Alexander's.
Weidman is 9-0 as a professional mixed martial artist, posting a 5-0 mark inside the UFC. Though he has been heralded as one of the top prospects in the game since kicking the tires on his career back in 2009, Weidman has recently garnered mainstream attention from MMA fans and has been labelled "the next big thing" in MMA.
If that label is yet unofficial, I'll take credit for proclaiming it right here.
You see, Weidman is not just a guy who turned up in the UFC and started succeeding. On the contrary, he has been compiling accolades for years, which points to his present skill and overall high ceiling.
Aptly nicknamed "All-American," Weidman is a two-time NJCAA All-American wrestler and a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, having placed third in the country during his senior year at Hofstra.
But wrestling is not Weidman's only specialty. After just one year of training jiu-jitsu, he qualified for the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship, where he won a match before exiting the tournament in the second round.
Weidman has used his overwhelming grappling prowess to dominate hapless opponents on the mat and has recently begun to bring his striking up to speed, which places him on the fringe of both completeness and MMA stardom.
In his last fight, Weidman was tasked with contesting middleweight contender Mark Munoz, in what was billed as a competitive fight. In reality, the bout was anything but with Weidman rag-dolling the power wrestler for a full round before schooling him on the feet for a knockout win. The victory made Weidman a legitimate title player at 185 pounds and put him on a lot of people's radar.
Still, Weidman's accomplishments to this point are not unprecedented, even if impressive, and they do nothing to ensure him a bright future in the sport.
Yet he is ensured a bright future in the sport.
Detractors are demanding more empirical evidence from Weidman before they jump on his bandwagon, tearing him down from the pedestal erected by his supporters by pointing to his small size of work. But what these detractors are not seeing, or are choosing not to see, is what Weidman can do, rather than what he has already done.
In large part, the counter-initiative to the Weidman banner-raising is grounded in the idolization of Anderson Silva. It has grown to the point that crediting any middleweight with a bright future or a chance to become champion is regarded by hordes of Silva supporters as an affront to the Spider.
Rather than viewing the trajectory of Weidman's, or any other fighter's, career in a vacuum, there are those who will see it on a collision course with Silva's, and subsequently dismiss it as awaiting annihilation. Though this point of view seems a bit narrow-minded, it has been vindicated time and again, which has strengthened the resolve of those likening Weidman to the middleweight corpses already littering the yard of Silva's haunted house.
It is unfortunate, but time seems to be the only thing that will bring out a grudging admission from some that Weidman is not like the rest—that he will be the next to join MMA's elite and not fall to one of its members.
I previously stated that this article would abstain from forecasting a potential Weidman versus Silva contest, and I will not break that promise. Instead, I will simply say that Weidman is already one of the biggest threats to Silva's title in the UFC's middleweight division, and he is only beginning to crack the surface of his potential.
Weidman is destined for great things in MMA, and there should be little doubt that a UFC title, pound-for-pound recognition and a storied career are among those great things. Whether a win over the Spider will become a part of that list is a matter for another debate.
So let us return to focusing on Weidman, rather than Weidman versus Silva. After all, some of the skepticism surrounding Weidman does not derive from admiration of Silva, but instead lies in the limited body of work he has produced.
While this criticism (or concern) is entirely valid, dismissal because of sample size is something not applicable to a fighter of Weidman's caliber. Even if the results aren't there in spades, the promise of future results is.
If we look at the bigger picture—Weidman is not 'the next big thing' because of what he has done, he is "the next big thing" because of what he will do.
If you are wondering how supporters, such as myself, can be so sure of what Weidman will do, I direct your attention to personal precedent, not in the things he has done, but instead in the way he has done them.
On paper, other fighters have met or exceeded Weidman's accomplishments, then floundered out of the sport. In the Octagon, however, few outside of those already granted elite status have looked as good as Weidman has when he has been at the top of his game.
And if you believe the top of his game now—his fight against Munoz—is anywhere near where it will be when he puts a few more fights against high-level competition under his belt, then you are deluding yourself.
When it's all said and done, Weidman will be one of those up-and-comers who not only sticks, but continues to stick it to doubters throughout his career, winning titles and recognition as one of the top fighters in the sport.
It will happen. You just wait and see.
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