Chris Weidman is undoubtedly the deserving top contender for Anderson Silva's middleweight title. Has been since last July, actually, when he knocked out Mark Munoz and derailed the Filipino's hopes to face Silva, a training partner and friend.
The only problem? Silva didn't want the fight. He didn't believe Weidman had a big enough name, and after a UFC career filled with excellence, Silva seems more interested in pursuing the fights that will make him the most amount of money.
You can't blame him, really. He's not a young man any more, and he has a limited time remaining in which to capitalize on his standing as the greatest fighter of all time and make as much money as he possibly can.
And so Silva wanted to fight Georges St-Pierre. He even traveled to Montreal to watch St-Pierre face Carlos Condit last year, in the hopes of drumming up interest in a long-awaited superfight.
Only thing is, St-Pierre didn't really want to fight Silva, or at least he didn't want to move up to middleweight. He preferred to stay at welterweight and face new challengers, and so the dream of one superfight was all but dead.
And still, Silva didn't want to face Weidman. He was more interested in Michael Bisping or Hector Lombard or Alan Belcher. But as fate would have it, all three of those fighters lost in their next bouts, leaving Weidman as the only man standing as a potential challenger for Silva.
Weidman had his own story wrinkled on the way to Silva. A shoulder injury forced him out of a planned December bout with Tim Boetsch, and then, Hurricane Sandy all but destroyed his home, leaving Weidman to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
That process is nearly finished, as Weidman told MMAFighting.com (per Mike Chiappetta) on Friday, and now comes the moment he says he's been planning for since the moment he began training mixed martial arts: a championship fight with Silva.
The bout is set for July 6 at UFC 162. It takes place during the UFC's 2013 version of "International Fight Week," a weeklong celebration of all things UFC designed to bring tourists to Las Vegas. They'll have a UFC Fan Expo, concerts and more. It's the biggest event on the UFC's yearly calendar, and Weidman will face Silva in the main event.
For all he went through to get here, Weidman now believes that he's getting his opportunity at the perfect time:
Without a doubt, it feels like fate. When I got injured, I was down, but I did feel like something better was going to happen out of this. I thought I was going to get an even bigger fight than the Boetsch fight. I didn't have my hopes up too much that it would be Anderson, but I knew there was a chance it could be. Everybody who could have had a shot lost. Things went my way. I'm grateful and humble for the opportunity.
The betting lines for Silva vs. Weidman were released on Friday, and they're surprising. They're also an indication of just much credit oddsmakers are giving Weidman. He opened up as a +165 underdog, with Silva occupying -215 on the other end. That number means that Weidman isn't even a 2-to-1 underdog, a number that is unprecedented for a Silva opponent.
For an example of what I'm talking about, here are the opening lines for Silva's last five title fights:
Silva (-235) vs. Sonnen (+175)
Silva (-425) vs. Okami (+325)
Silva (-325) vs. Belfort (+250)
Silva (-450) vs. Sonnen (+300)
Silva (-425) vs. Maia (+325)
As you can see, only Sonnen was given a halfway decent line against Silva, and that came on the heels of Sonnen utterly dominating Silva until being submitted with a triangle choke at the very end of their first fight.
And despite the fact that Sonnen had already displayed a measure of success against Silva, Weidman is still being given a better chance by oddsmakers to score the upset and defeat the pound-for-pound king.
For his part, Weidman isn't looking to just go in the cage and have a good showing for himself; he's looking for the finish.
I'm very motivated to make the most of this opportunity and not just be another title contender. Every other time I've had a full training camp, I've had a finish. And I plan on continuing that. I'm going against the greatest of all-time, but that's not going to change my confidence of what I'm going to do in there. I'm very excited.
Weidman is 9-0 in his MMA career, with five of those wins coming in the UFC. But more importantly, he has the kind of wrestling-based offense that many say is the foundation of any blueprint to beating Silva. Sonnen showed it could be done in his first crack at Silva, and he would've scored a shocking win if not for a mental lapse at the end of the fight.
I don't know if Weidman has better submission defense than Sonnen. I know he's not as good in the wrestling department, but very few in mixed martial arts are as good at wrestling as Sonnen. But I do know that Weidman's wrestling game is good enough to put the champion on his back, so long as he can first avoid being knocked out.
Who wins this fight?
I understand that this isn't the fight everyone wanted to see. We all wanted Silva vs. St-Pierre or Silva vs. Jon Jones, and some of us wanted Silva vs. Nick Diaz. But those fights aren't happening any time soon, and that means that the title shot needs to go to the most deserving candidate.
Weidman won't sell a tenth of the pay-per-views that Silva fights with St-Pierre or Jones would. This is a prizefighting business, with the ultimate goal being to make as much money as humanly possible with main events that intrigue casual fans enough that they'll open their wallets and pay you for the right to see a fight.
But sometimes you have to reward athletic endeavors, too. And there's no question that, based on what he's done in his career thus far and on the standing of the rest of the middleweight division, Weidman is the most deserving contender.
Does that mean he'll win? I don't know.
But I'd sure like to see him try.