The hallowed halls of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas was the site of the blockbuster championship bout between boxing greats Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya. The venue also played host to some of combat sports' most legendary feuds, including Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield and Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz.
Who would have guessed that the arena's history would have a place for an inexperienced 29-year-old who was broke and without a home?
With just a 9-0 record, Chris Weidman stepped up and challenged UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva—arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history. According to most fans, it was a David vs. Goliath matchup void of a surprise ending. Weidman was simply too green to deal with the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Besides, he was already dealing with a plethora of other problems. He was coming off shoulder surgery after suffering a torn labrum, his home had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and he wouldn't even have his cornerman on the big night.
Speaking with Chuck Mindenhall of MMAFighting.com, John Danaher, Weidman’s jiu-jitsu coach, admitted it was an uphill battle just making it to the bout with Silva:
He was essentially homeless. He was financially completely bankrupt. I remember I had to lend Chris thousands of dollars out of my own pocket just to keep him solvent while he’s preparing to fight Silva. And his life was essentially in chaos. One day when people know the full story of what happened, I’m not kidding when I say this, it’s like a goddamn Hollywood movie. It’s Rocky Balboa. It’s insane. The guy had nine fights. Bankrupt. Homeless. With a completely broken shoulder.
All of the odds were stacked against the former All-American wrestler, but he persevered and made it to UFC 162.
For most fans, Weidman was just a name destined to be marked off as another Silva victim. The amount of exposure he had received in the UFC up until that point was minimal. It also didn’t help that the middleweight division was one of the promotion’s thinner weight classes in regard to world-class talent.
To put it bluntly, fans weren’t convinced Weidman could compete with Silva despite notable wins over Mark Munoz and Demian Maia. However, many MMA journalists and top UFC fighters had seen enough to convince them that there was something different about Weidman, that he was the man to finally end Silva’s seven-year reign.
The idea of anyone picking against him, much less his peers, appeared to bother Silva, as it would any longtime champion.
Ray Longo, Weidman’s striking coach, recalls a nasty incident with Silva at the weigh-ins during an interview with MMAFighting.com. According to Longo, Silva approached Weidman from behind backstage and stood about an inch from his head, staring him down:
He had like 40 guys with him. What a bully mentality. ... That to me is telling about a guy. You’re posturing in front of your friends? What is this, second grade? You’re a grown ass man.
Despite everything Weidman was dealing with, outsiders continued to treat him like the villain. Silva is one of the most beloved fighters in MMA history, and many took Weidman’s overbearing confidence as an insult. How dare anyone think he can walk through Silva, especially with only nine fights under his belt?
As the lights dimmed on fight night, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” echoed throughout the packed MGM Grand Garden. Everything else faded away as Weidman made his way from the tunnel to the brightly lit Octagon in the middle of all the chaos.
A long and arduous journey had finally brought Weidman to the gates of hell, and he wouldn’t back down.
The calculated mind games from Silva continued in the actual fight. He dropped his hands several times, taunting and daring Weidman to push the action on the feet. His wish was ultimately granted with a crushing left hook that closed the curtains on the longest championship reign in UFC history.
As Weidman looked out into a sea of stunned faces, he knew his life would never be the same again. His name would forever be etched in history as a world champion, but most importantly, he now had the resources to comfortably provide for his family.
“I’ve never had anything. I just wanted to one day live comfortable. Like, be able to go out to lunch with my friends without being like, crap, I don’t know if I can afford this bill right now. I shouldn’t be doing this. That’s all I really wanted,” Weidman told MMAFighting’s Mindenhall.
There won’t be much time to get comfortable, as Weidman is already slated to meet Silva in a rematch on Dec. 28.
The roles may be reversed, but don’t expect to see Weidman walking around with a 40-person entourage. Instead, the champ will keep things simple and stick with his usual team, which recently added one new member: Justin Romanello, a kid from Long Island who has been diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Weidman tells MMAFighting that he hopes to surprise the young fan by having him present during the cage walkout at UFC 168: "I wonder if the UFC would allow him to walk out with me for UFC 168? I would love to have him walk out with me. How great would that be?"
Against the mighty Anderson Silva, you couldn’t ask for a better entourage.